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ANGEL REESE TURNS A HISTORIC MOMENT INTO A SELF-SERVING RACIAL DEBACLE
If her post-game taunting was a farce, her mocking of Jill Biden’s two-team White House invite — and plea to Michelle Obama — is a dangerous poison pill in what should be a women’s sports celebration
It wasn’t enough for Angel Reese to romp, stomp and chomp. In the most demonstrative display of one-upmanship ever seen in a major championship moment — male or female, professional or collegiate, in this country or any other, if not another planet — it wasn’t enough for Reese to keep taunting and mocking Caitlin Clark.
It wasn’t enough to say afterward, “All year, I was critiqued for who I was. 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. But when other people do it, and y’all don’t say nothing. So this is for the girls that look like me. For those that want to speak up for what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you. And that’s what I did it for tonight. It was bigger than me tonight. And Twitter is going to go into a rage every time.” Nor was it enough, apparently, to be named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after leading LSU to a national title.
No, Reese had to go hyper-political a day later, continuing to force-feed race into what should be celebrated as a true breakthrough in American sports and culture, the day 10 million people watched a women’s basketball game. When Clark occasionally trash-talked opponents during Iowa’s run, it didn’t come from a racial place. The hand-to-face gesture that justified Reese’s splashy show of ridicule, in her mind, was Clark’s earlier “you can’t see me” dig at Louisville rival Hailey Van Lith — who is white, like Clark — which was followed by a verbal shot, “You’re down by 15 points. Shut up.” That constitutes trash talk, commonplace in the men’s game and, evidently, the women’s game.
What Reese did Sunday was a farce. What she did Monday was a debacle that doused the triumphant aftermath of a quantum leap for the sport. Duly impressed by the proceedings inside a Dallas arena, where she watched the championship game with women’s sports pioneer Billie Jean King, First Lady Jill Biden made a suggestion that most of us could embrace. Because of what this showcase meant to America, and to millions of little girls from all walks of life, she spoke of an idea that she would run by her husband, the President.
“I know we’ll have the champions come to the White House, we always do,” she said. “So, we hope LSU will come. But, you know, I’m going to tell Joe I think Iowa should come too because they played such a good game. … It was so exciting, wasn’t it? It was such a great game. I’m old enough to remember when we got Title IX. We fought so hard, right? We fought so hard. And look at where women’s sports have come today.”
A fine idea, I’d say, and a worthy time to break from the tradition of inviting only champions to Washington. If some teams rejected such overtures during Donald Trump’s presidency, including the South Carolina powerhouse dethroned by Iowa in the national semifinals, coach Kim Mulkey made it clear after the victory that LSU’s team would be in Washington with bells on. What a shame that Angel Reese, who is Black, turned a regal occasion into another headline for Angel Reese.
With three laughing emojis, she tweeted of the two-team invitation, “A JOKE.”
And when teammate Alexis Morris floated a Plan B — “Michelle OBAMA can we (LSU NATIONAL CHAMPS) come celebrate our win at your house?” she tweeted — Reese rambled on. “THAT’S THE TWEET,” she wrote.
Suddenly, what could be pardoned as an emotional release in the heat of euphoria had become a crusade, a mission for clicks and outrage. When Reese explained she’d been bothered by something Clark said to Morris, again, it was typical trash talk. “I don’t take disrespect lightly,” Reese said at the post-game press conference. “She disrespected Alexis and I wanted to pick her pocket. But I had a moment at the end of the game. I was in my bag. I was in my moment.”
Sure, right. A moment. But rejecting the invitation of one First Lady to summon a former First Lady — Reese went over the top. What possibly is next? This isn’t the time or place for activism, devolving into a self-serving insult to both teams and the record throngs who watched. She has no respect for the gravitas that is larger than her. She stole the stage.
When asked about Reese’s taunting exhibition, Clark took the high road. You can’t dish out a “you can’t see me” gesture and not accept the backlash when you lose. She knew how to respond. “I was just trying to get to the handshake line and shake hands and be grateful that my team was in that position,” Clark said. “All the credit in the world to LSU. They were tremendous. They deserve it. They had a tremendous season. Kim Mulkey coached them so, so well. She’s one of the best basketball coaches of all time, and it shows. She only said really kind things to me in the handshake line, so I’m very grateful of that too.
“But honestly I have no idea. I was just trying to spend the last few moments on the court with especially the five people that I’ve started 93 games with and relishing every second of that.”
The furor has sparked Black vs. white firestorms in all corners of social media. When 64-year-old pundit Keith Olbermann referred to Reese as a “f—ing idiot,” Shaquille O’Neal came to Reese’s defense with a flagrant foul across the chops: “shut your dumb ass up leave angel reese alone.” Then Shaq fired at the Barstool Sports blowhard, Dave Portnoy, who had called Reese “a classless piece of s—.” Replied O’Neal: “and so is your mother.”
In these turbulent times, with Trump surrendering to authorities and New York ready to erupt, talk of double standards is dangerous. Wrote former NBA player Etan Thomas: “Hold on now!!!! It was cute when Caitlin Clark did it. Y’all didn’t have any issues with it at all. So don’t be all outraged and talking about class and sportsmanship when Angel Reese does the same thing. We’re not doing double standards here.”
It’s wrong to say Reese did “the same thing” as Clark, who briefly flashed a gesture in understated fashion. Reese still might be romping and stomping if the team charter wasn’t returning to Baton Rouge. Pleading in the background is ESPN analyst Holly Rowe, who wrote after working the title game, “People hating on Angel Reese or Caitlin Clark. Stop. Unapologetically confident young women should be celebrated NOT hated. Get used to it.”
But before people can stop “hating on” Angel Reese, she must retreat from her own hatred.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.