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The NCAA women's basketball championship game was full of politics

Gender politics, racial politics, even international politics. The NCAA women's basketball championship was chock-full of storylines — and a joy to watch.


From the moment the ball was first tossed up in Sunday’s NCAA women’s basketball championship game, politics were in the air. On multiple fronts. 

In a society in which women are subjugated and relegated to rigidly defined gender roles, women’s sports are inherently political. 

The idea that sports are a “man’s game” stems from the misogynistic belief that fierce competitiveness and technical mastery aren’t traits women can possess — whether naturally or through hard work. To be clear, Sunday’s title game literally might not even have happened if not for laws mandating that women have the same opportunity as men to participate in college athletics. 

And what a treat: The game itself was a testimony to the value of those laws. We got stellar, meaningful play and all the exciting chippiness that comes with it.

The game pitted Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, the sharp-shooting superstar, and her Hawkeyes against the LSU Tigers. Clark has become a media sensation thanks to her dominant play … and her willingness to trash-talk opponents, both of which I love to watch.

And some people have noted that the gushing praise for Clark, who is white, and her outward displays is different from the way many Black athletes — especially Black women — are portrayed when they act equally demonstratively. This explains why LSU’s Angel Reese, a star in her own right, relished the opportunity to stunt on Clark using the same “you can’t see me” taunt Clark had recently deployed. 

Here’s Clark’s taunt against Louisville in the Elite Eight: 

And here’s Reese’s taunt against Clark on Sunday:

Reese has faced criticism for her passionate play before, so logically, a swagless horde of observers began to denounce her after the taunt, seemingly ignorant of the fact that she was using an opponent’s own trash-talking against her. (Looking at you, Keith Olbermann.)

Reese, the newly christened champion who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, had all the smoke for them after the game: 

All year I was critiqued about who I was. ... I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit in a 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, y’all don’t say nothing. So this was for the girls that look like me, that’s going to speak up on what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you. That’s what I did it for tonight. It was bigger than me tonight. It was bigger than me. Twitter is going to go on a rage every time, and I’m happy. I feel like I’ve helped grow women’s basketball this year. I’m super happy and excited, so I’m looking forward to celebrating in the next season.

This came just two days after South Carolina coach Dawn Staley suggested that a national writer had made racist remarks about her largely Black team before its loss to Iowa in the Final Four. Both instances invoke memories of the late radio host Don Imus, whose racist comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team back in 2007 highlighted the issue of biased sports commentary.

And yet, still, the politics didn’t end there. There’s also the fact that LSU is coached by Kim Mulkey, who’s evidently a far better basketball coach than she is a human being. As I’ve explained for The ReidOut Blog in the past, Mulkey has been linked to multiple controversies throughout her successful coaching career. 

Mulkey previously coached Brittney Griner at Baylor, where Griner has said Mulkey told players not to be open publicly about their sexuality. Mulkey also awkwardly refused to comment on her former player’s imprisonment in Russia last year.

And Mulkey was criticized, during her time at Baylor, for encouraging violence against people critical of the university for an athletics scandal in which officials covered up sexual assaults committed by Baylor student-athletes. 

These are some of the reasons I’m uncomfortable with anyone singing Mulkey’s praises too loudly today.

All this to say: LSU’s players deserve to enjoy the limelight. All in all, this year’s women’s tournament was great for the game of basketball.