By Carley Crain
When a woman athlete talks trash in a game, she is seen as “unsportsmanlike” or “annoying.” Add race into that equation, and the insults become even worse. But when a man does the same thing, he is celebrated (cue “The Man” by Taylor Swift). It’s the same concept as slut-shaming. The race and gender double standards were in full effect during the NCAA Division I women’s basketball National Championship.
University of Iowa star Caitlin Clark is known for her on-court personality. She isn’t afraid to get in competitors’ faces and try to intimidate them. Angel Reese, who plays for Louisiana State University (LSU), has a similar approach to the game. But as a woman of color, she has been intensely scrutinized and harassed for her “you can’t see me” hand gestures.
Clark has been one of the more prominent trash talkers since her first year in a Hawkeyes uniform, and ESPN even made a video montage about her titled: “The Queen of Clapbacks.” Her actions were praised. The main difference between Clark and Reese? Clark is white.
During the title game between Iowa and LSU, Reese waved a hand in front of Clark’s face – something Clark had done to Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith earlier in the tournament – mimicking John Cena’s popular taunt. Reese also pointed to her ring finger, which symbolized LSU winning the national championship.
Frankly, it took a lot of bravery for Reese to do what she did. I applaud Reese for being her authentic self, because in a patriarchal society, it’s not easy to do that.
After the taunts, the word “classless” trended on Twitter. Former ESPN sports commentator Keith Olbermann, who has been suspended before for inappropriate Twitter use, even went to Twitter and shared some very harsh words about Reese, calling her a “f— idiot.” Other people, including Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy, called Reese a “classless piece of s—.”
LSU trounced Iowa 102-85 to win its first championship in school history. A few days later, First Lady Jill – who had attended the Women’s Final Four, announced online that she hoped her husband, Joe Biden, would invite Iowa – along with LSU – to the White House because, “they played such a good game.” This would have been the first time that the runner-ups attend the White House. Reese was very upset by this, leading her to tweet, “A JOKE,” with laughing-face emojis. Now, if LSU were the runner-up, would it be invited, especially since almost all of the athletes on their team are BIPOC? I think we all know the answer.
On the flip side, Sports Illustrated is already anticipating Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s trash-talk for the next NFL season. The article titled “Tyreek Hill is Already Talking Trash Ahead of 2023 Return to Arrowhead” features lines like Hill saying “Guess what? I’m gonna be y’all’s worst enemy that day.” It’s almost like the writer was encouraging it.
So how is all of this both racist and sexist? It could be easy to ignore these two factors when talking about this situation and to “not bring up the race card.” But it is ignorant if someone chooses to do that. Asking the hard questions like, “Why was Caitlin Clark’s trash talking featured in an ESPN montage video and Reese’s were seen as ‘classless’ and ‘unsportsmanlike?’” Each athlete was doing the exact same thing, and the only difference is their skin color.
If sexism and racism continue to be ignored, then nothing will ever change, except the fact that people will repeatedly get hurt and brutalized. So even though it is uncomfortable to talk about race, especially as a white person, it is needed. Ignorance is not bliss – just destructive.