This past season was historic for women’s college basketball with record-breaking ratings and the emergence of stars, but one incident in the championship game should not stain the sport.
Sunday, April 2 was a historic moment for women’s sports. The NCAA women’s basketball championship game had 9.9 million viewers, the most viewed NCAA women’s basketball game ever, which featured a classic matchup of hero ball versus a great team in Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and the LSU Tigers.
Clark had a historic run in the playoffs that carried the Iowa Hawkeyes to the championship round. LSU head coach Kim Mulkey created a dominant team with the likes of Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson and took the program to the championship in her second season of coaching. But those weren’t the only factors that contributed to Sunday’s game.
It was the trash talk leading up to the game that built up this anticipated matchup.
Clark was doing the “you can’t see me” celebration to Louisville and waving off South Carolina players when they pulled to the three-point line in prior rounds of the tournament. The swagger fired fans up and brought attention to the tournament.
After becoming aware of Clark’s braggadocious actions, LSU let it fuel them and let the trash talk fly. “I don’t think they can guard us that way … I find it very disrespectful, so I’m going to take that personally going into that game,” said LSU guard Alexis Morris.
This attitude carried over to the game. LSU got Clark into foul trouble early, forced bad shots, LSU forward Angel Reese got in Clark’s face and they had multiple players with double-digit points to grow their lead in a strong victory.
This was fun; this was exciting; this was a classic moment where sports wrote its own narrative — until the media ruined it.
Yes, Clark is a baller and without her dominant season there wouldn’t be the record-breaking views, but she didn’t ask to become this season’s golden child to be placed on a pedestal.
That was the sports media’s fault.
The LSU Tigers didn’t come into this season wanting to be the villains. They were here to win a championship and that’s what they did.
Reese’s competitiveness should not have been written off as “classless” and “ghetto” just because the hero of the season did not win the championship.
It is a shame that the topic of racism and attacking Reese’s personality has become the main talking point in a moment where women’s sports popularity was on par with the men.
And if we are being honest, trash-talking played a role in its rise in popularity.
How is it that we, as fans, can get chills with Mike Tyson’s post-fight interviews, laugh with Conor McGregor when he dishes out roasts during press conferences, want to know more about Richard Sherman’s beef with the San Francisco 49’ers, quote Muhammad Ali’s iconic phrases and want to be ruthless like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, but the moment women show the same emotion and grittiness, it becomes something else rather than the competitive nature of sports.
If San Diego State and UConn’s men’s basketball teams both got to attend the White House, there would be outrage. So let’s keep the same energy for the women who put in the same blood, sweat and tears.
If Reese and Clark can openly say there are no hard feelings and that it’s all part of the game, then we as fans and members of the media can accept that too.
The more female athletes of major sports can show off their personalities, trash talk, and get into beef and rivalries just like male athletes, the sport and spotlight will grow and stars will rise.