LSU star Angel Reese was awarded the Most Outstanding Player after the Tigers’ 102-85 win over Iowa. Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.
KOBE MOSLEY | MANAGING EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
Overtime, or “OT,” is an opinion column series where the Collegian takes national sports headlines or polarizing topics and gives them a Butler-centric angle.
Too often in sports — especially women’s sports — the actual gameplay gets lost in what mainstream media finds to be a more “newsworthy” or “attention-grabbing” storyline.
This story will not do that.
This story will start by highlighting the NCAA women’s March Madness tournament and championship for what it truly was: entertaining and highly competitive basketball.
In one of the more exciting postseasons I’ve seen, the tournament was full of upsets, games that came down-to-the-wire and basketball that was simply worth watching.
In all honesty, however, the championship game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Louisiana State University Tigers may have been one-sided and marred by less-than-stellar officiating. Nevertheless, LSU played an expectational game and National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark of the Hawkeyes was still able to do some pretty amazing things in a losing effort.
Giving the game its proper appreciation is hard to do in a climate where it’s so easy to cultivate a narrative that can quickly overshadow the endless hours of hard work these athletes put into their craft.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to the championship game, as the sports world and beyond were thrust into a debate on whether or not they agreed with the actions of LSU star and tournament Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese.
As you likely have already seen, Reese made several gestures such as pointing to her ring finger to signal that she was getting a championship ring and following Clark on the court doing an impression of WWE star John Cena’s “You Can’t See Me.” It’s important to note that Clark did some trash-talking of her own in the two games prior to the championship, versus Louisville in the Elite Eight and South Carolina in the Final Four, even imitating Cena’s impression herself.
Regardless of who started it, social media has been flooded with both support and criticism for what Reese did. Well-known names in sports media like Keith Olbermann and Dave Portnoy harshly criticized her, while others like Jalen Rose and Jemele Hill came to her defense.
Were people making this a big deal? First-year biology major Ny’Anza Palmer thinks so.
“Angel Reese is like a very outspoken person to begin with,” Palmer said. “So I mean, she probably would have done [her trash-talking] either way. But I think she mainly did it because she wanted to see how the media would respond to her doing that in that instance. So I mean, I don’t have a problem with it.”
I agree that Reese is a player who likes to let her emotions influence the way she plays. While she might do it a bit differently, Clark likes to do the same thing. So what is the difference?
I’ll be completely honest with what I think: if Angel Reese were either a man or white, this wouldn’t be nearly as big of a story as it is.
Carter Williams, a sophomore finance and marketing double major, believes that women in sports — especially women of color — are subject to a different brand of criticism.
“I think [women of color] are held to a different standard and capacity,” Williams said. “When Caitlin Clark was doing it, it was perfectly fine. And then [Angel Reese] does it back to her, then it’s a big uproar. So I think [racial bias] was definitely something that played [a] factor.”
Let’s unpack this for a bit. There’s no denying that Clark is a generational talent who is helping change the sport for the better. But claims that she is already the greatest women’s college basketball player of all time not only discredits the work of Black women who came before her, but it also proves the “great white hope” theory — that some people crave for there to be a white superstar — still stands today.
Additionally, the benefit of the doubt is something regularly awarded to white players, and more seldomly given to Black and brown players.
In Iowa’s win over South Carolina in the Final Four, Gamecocks’ head coach Dawn Staley had to defend the way her team played the game, as her players — who are predominately Black and brown — are commonly criticized for being “too physical” or “bullies.” This is something that teams like Iowa — who are predominantly white — don’t have to answer questions about because there are people ready to defend them.
In keeping with this theme, senior marketing major Ben Hutchinson defended Clark and explained why she appeared to disregard South Carolina’s Raven Johnson as a threat to shoot when she was wide open with the ball.
“Maybe she didn’t need to do it like that,” Hutchinson said. “But it was kind of an instinctive thing, rather than a thought-out slight against the player.”
Senior sports media major Luke Allen did the same thing for Clark, justifying the move as “not meant to be disrespectful” and done “in the heat of the game.”
To be fair, Johnson isn’t much of a threat from three-point range, as she shot 24% from three on the season. But unless Clark publicly says that she didn’t mean it as a slight, how can we be sure it wasn’t one?
On the other hand, Reese told us exactly why she did what she did right to Clark and Iowa right after the championship game.
“All year, I was critiqued for who I was,” Reese said in the postgame press conference. “I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit the box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too ’hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year. So, this [win] is for the girls that look like me. For those that want to speak up for what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you.”
By no means do you have to agree with what Reese did. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on any topic, and this is no different. But just as people award Clark with the freedom to be herself, let’s do the same for Reese and the girls who look up to her.