Don't be taunting women's college sports, because they're on the move
Women's tourney viewership puts new landscape on the table
Let’s talk boat-missing.
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, perhaps the best women’s basketball player on the planet and certainly the best collegian, who has eligibility remaining, did the dumb John Cena fingers-waving-in-front-of-her-face gesture toward Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith near the end of the Hawkeyes’ Elite Eight victory.
FYI, John Cena is a professional wrestler with more WWE title reigns than anybody, though his finishing move is no more convincing than Tommy “Wildfire” Rich’s Lou Thesz press. Nor is Cena in the same squared-circle stratosphere as Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Rick Steamboat, Brett Hart, Bob Backlund or even Don Muraco.
Then, near the end of the national championship game, which the Hawkeyes reached by stunningly bouncing unbeaten and No. 1 overall seed South Carolina, LSU’s Angel Reese, who has even more eligibility remaining, threw the same gesture at Clark, even with an added finger point at the finger she’ll eventually place her national championship ring upon.
About nobody accused Clark of poor sportsmanship, while many pointed fingers at Reese for waving her hand and, well, pointing [at] her finger.
The outcry came via social media, which, of course, brought conventional media aboard, USAToday for one, where sports columnist Mike Freeman penned a piece under the headline, “Angel Reese’s taunt of Caitlin Clark shows a double-standard for Black players.”
And he’s right.
Reese, among other things, said this:
“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 say nothing. So this was for the girls that look like me, that’s going to speak up on what they believe in.”
Clark, unaware of the taunt, claimed not to care about Reese’s taunt, adding this:
“All you can do is hold your head high, be proud of what you did, and 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 she only said really kind things to me in the handshake line, so I’m very grateful for that too. But honestly I have no idea, and 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.”
I wish Clark hadn’t taunted Van Lith. I wish Reese hadn’t taunted Clark.
I also believe the original double-standard is more about sex than race. We think nothing of male athletes taunting one another, yet expect female athletes to be at all times gracious.
But Freeman’s point is valid, too, because Reese should come under no more fire for her taunts than Clark for hers. Yet, though a valid point, it’s kind of beside the point, because neither transgression is a huge transgression and the response to the response to the response becomes less elucidating and more silly the longer the cycle continues.
All that and it misses the boat on the larger cultural story coming out of the women’s tournament: the sudden allure of the women’s game, which at its highest heights is drawing greater viewership than so much live men’s sports, college and pro.
As Sports Media Watch reported, the women’s NCAA tournament title game averaged 9.9 million viewers on ABC and ESPN2, up 103 percent from last season’s South Carolina-Connecticut final broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2.
It reported this, too:
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