Press box: Racism in women’s college basketball

Illustration by Killian Goodale-Porter.

Kyler Gilliam, Contributing Writer

Head coach Dawn Staley and the South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in the National Championship to cap off a historic season for women’s college basketball. 

The game saw a peak of 24 million viewers, the most of any basketball broadcast since 2019, according to NPR

Even after this renaissance of women’s college basketball, there is still a stain on the game: the unfair and racist media coverage of the Louisiana State University Tigers women’s basketball team — mainly star forward Angel Reese — and other teams with majority Black players.

Before LSU went up against UCLA in this year’s sweet sixteen round, there was a story published by the Los Angeles Times in which journalist Ben Bolch attacked the LSU women’s basketball program. 

The piece has since been edited to remove some of the insensitive remarks made by Bolch. The piece compared LSU to “dirty debutantes,” which is a reference to adult film material, and “Louisiana hot sauce,” which has racial undertones compared to UCLA being referred to as “milk and cookies.”

The main comparison made for LSU was that they were “basketball villains” while UCLA was billed as “America’s sweethearts.” The article framed the sweet sixteen matchup as good versus evil. This harmful language vilified the LSU Tigers and put them through more scrutiny before their game against UCLA.

LSU, a team primarily made up of Black women, has been getting unwarranted hate since their national championship win last year against Iowa. 

Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy called Reese a “classless piece of (vulgarity)” during the final seconds of the national championship after Reese celebrated her win against Clark.

Also, the constant hate on social media for LSU and their players included death threats, according to Reese in a postgame interview.

Even with all of the advancements in overall respect for women’s sports, especially collegiate, racism is still a prominent issue for both the media and fans. 

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark has brought so many eyes to the game, leading to some of the most-watched games in women’s basketball history. 

But some of those eyes see her as a “great white hope” instead of just the amazing basketball talent that she is, and the media is playing into that. 

CNN made a post on the social platform X, about South Carolina winning the national championship. The post featured a picture of Clark and the Hawkeyes instead of the victorious Gamecocks. 

It seemed Clark falling short was more important than South Carolina— which was a majority Black team with arguably the best coach in the country, also a Black woman — going undefeated and winning a national championship. CNN changed the post after backlash on the social media platform X.

Clark is stuck in the middle of all this, and all she did was play amazingly for the past four years at Iowa. Bigots use Clark’s presence to bring animosity to Black women who played against her to have an opportunity to show their true colors.  

I truly hope the media does better with its portrayal of all of the women who make the collegiate game as interesting as it is.

There is no place for the blatantly racist and disgusting remarks made by Bolch.

There is also no place for CNN to post about a national championship and not show the winning team. 

Other players across the country should be the focal point for the media next season. They might not be as good as Clark, but they can be just as interesting. 

Juju Watkins, MiLaysia Fulwiley, Flau’jae Johnson and Paige Bueckers will light up the court and headlines.

Fixing basketball’s racism problem will not happen overnight, but improving the coverage of Black women is a start.

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