Message to men: Butt out of women’s competitive affairs and let them play, let them talk junk, let them entertain us the way men sports does.
Angel Reese and Caitlan Clark are gifted basketball players and seemingly wonderful young women. Reese, star of national champion LSU, was the target of vitriol on social media and undoubtedly behind closed doors after directing the “you can’t see me” gesture, popularized by wrestler and actor John Cena, towards Clark, the transcendent guard for Iowa, late in Sunday’s NCAA women’s championship game.
LSU defeated Iowa 102-85 to earn the program its first ever NCAA women’s basketball title. The 20-year-old Reese was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2023 Women’s Basketball Championship. Some of the characterizations of Reese were usually reserved for those that commit vile offenses. They were extreme. Most that this writer read were from men, including well-known and widely followed media figures. The unmistakable marks of inherent colorism and sexism were implicit and resonant.
Reese is Black, as are all of the prominent players for LSU. The 21-year-old Clark is white, and so are a majority of Iowa’s exceptional squad. LSU stopping Iowa also altered the storyline many white male journalists were eager to propagate: The great white player and golden girls from middle America take down the uncultured and hyper-aggressive Black girls from the South. They’ll never admit it, but consciously or subconsciously, they know it to be true.
What is disheartening and disturbing is that for the ladies of LSU and Iowa, including their head coaches Kim Mulkey and Lisa Bluder, respectively, and their staffs, the game was purely about basketball. Reese’s taunt was in response to Clark giving the Louisville Cardinals the “you can’t see me” during Iowa’s 97-83 win in the Elite Eight. She also dismissively waved off South Carolina guard Raven Johnson in their Final Four matchup, indicating to her teammates to not even bother covering the poor shooting perimeter player beyond 15-feet.
In street parlance, Clark is gangsta. So is Reese. Clark is from Des Moines, Iowa. Reese is from Baltimore, Maryland. The cities are ideologically and demographically worlds apart, but the two women share many commonalities that were obscured by a presumptive racial barrier erected by those pushing an agenda.
In fact, after Clark gave a Louisville player the business, Cena tweeted, “Even if they could see you…they couldn’t guard you!” Clark’s innocuous barb was embraced and even celebrated. Reese was vilified. Double standard on steroids. On Tuesday in a televised interview on ESPN, Clark graciously defended Reese, the two likely to be teammates someday for the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, or even in the WNBA. “I don’t think Angel should be criticized at all,” Clark said. “No matter which way it goes, she should never be criticized for what she did. I’m one that competes, and she competed.” What Reese and Clark did was draw 9.9 million TV viewers, peaking at 12. 6 million across all platforms, making it the most watched women’s basketball game in history. Do your thing, ladies!