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Ed. Note: This guest article was written by long-time podcast listener Mongo Watson. If you have an opinion you’d like to share with the community please submit your pitch at this link.
Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark. What a mess, right?
It seems like the entire sports world has weighed in on this. Battle lines have been drawn, names have been called, emotions are high. So why not contribute my two cents? I may be the only person in the country who hasn’t yet.
Here is the evolution of my mental journey through the weekend.
When I saw it all live, I wasn’t terribly impressed. I didn’t think it was a good look for Reese. I also didn’t think it was a good look for Clark when I saw her do it to South Carolina. I can’t help it. I was never much of a trash talker when I played sports. Of course, there are those that will correctly point out that I wasn’t good enough to talk trash, since talking trash usually follows doing something good on the court or field, and that would have left me out.
And though that argument has some validity, in truth, my lack of appreciation for trash talk can be traced back to my father. He was a big sportsmanship guy. It’s just who he was. He didn’t like athletes chirping, and I guess a little of it rubbed off on me.
However, I also understand that athletes have been talking trash to one another since… well, forever – since the very first sport was played. So, as long as the talk doesn’t cross certain socially unacceptable lines, it does little harm.
That’s not what bothered me about the whole situation. What bothered me was how wildly contrived the fuss was. Just a few minutes after LSU won the championship, major sports news outlets, like ESPN and Bleacher Report, to name two, poured gas on the situation and started striking matches. The photos they posted on their social media accounts weren’t of LSU hoisting the trophy. They also weren’t of Jasmine Carson blowing up from three, or Alexis Morris sinking daggers into Iowa every time they made a push, or even of the horrendously awful officiating that desperately, but thank God unsuccessfully, tried to ruin the game. No, all the big sports media outlets that I saw ran with, “you can’t see me.”
What irritated me most about this was that the people who run those outlets aren’t stupid. They knew what they were doing, waving red meat at fan bases fresh off a brutally contested and incredibly competitive game, sticking needles into a bottom feeding, social media posting public that has a talent for saying things that are idiotic and incendiary, and serving up a perfect stew for every “has been” or “never was” crap columnist in their employ that desperately needs clicks to get paid. And it worked. It all blew up.
So, let’s make some quick observations about the “gesture” so I can get on with what I really want to say.
Does race affect how we view what happened? Yes. It’s as simple as that. And we all know this. I think we’re past the point of pretending not to see it. And you can say the same about sex. Societal norms for men and women in this country unfairly allow behavior from men that is not tolerated from women. I don’t think that’s a big revelation to anyone.
But it’s not that simple for everyone. When it comes to human reaction around sports, simple rarely happens. Because sports is about choosing sides and being emotionally connected to your team, whether that connection is lifelong or just for one game. It’s what makes watching sports so fun. And it’s why I found myself somewhat annoyed with people whose points I generally agreed with, because they made those points reflexively and without much thought, and the issues of race and sex in this country scream out for thought. So, what did they miss?
My oldest daughter played middle school basketball. All of us parents sat together every game, cheered them on (of course), and complained about the refs (of course) because the refs sucked. Sound familiar. One of the mothers complained every game about how the refs didn’t like our team and how we got the short end of every call. One game I agreed with her that the refs were awful, but that in my opinion they were awful to both sides, and to make what I thought was a highly logical and well thought out argument, I pointed out several bad calls that were in our favor. Mistake. Big mistake. Because she spent the next 15 minutes verbally kicking my butt. During my beating, I noticed her husband, who was seated between her and I, kept his head down, pretending to study his iPad, and never once looked up. I’m pretty sure the damn thing wasn’t even on. He just didn’t want make eye contact and possibly draw fire.
Thanks for the lifeline, bro.
So after the game, while I wandered around the gym picking up what was left of my ass, I concluded three things: 1) never antagonize a pissed off attorney, 2) never get into a foxhole with the spouse of said pissed off attorney because he will leave you to die, and 3) homers will be homers.
Which means, there are other colors involved in this discussion, black and gold, and purple and gold, and depending on which of those colors you pulled for during the game, your objectivity in judging the actions of Clark and Reese is mostly shit.
So instead of this endless debate, what should we have focused on instead? The game. Did you watch the game? It was great! Nearly 190 points were scored in a 40 minute game! How does that happen? Because it didn’t happen in the men’s Final Four. The women were all-out ballers. They were way, way too talented and competitive for the refs who were assigned to officiate the game, which is something the NCAA needs to address. The women’s Final Four has outgrown the competitive box that was created for it. The league infrastructure needs to keep up. But yet no one talked about this, and I sat in my house frustrated at the cynical machinations of it all.
But as I sat there listening, and listening some more, I slowly realized something. I realized that Angel Reese has a much more sophisticated understanding of what this all means than I do.
Reese versus Clark is the only thing people are talking about. UConn who? San Diego State who? The Women’s Championship Game was the most watched women’s college basketball game ever, by far. And as we all know, it still is generating interest. And when it comes to women’s athletics, interest is interest, regardless of the reasons for it.
It is a fantastic product. Anyone who watched the finals or semi-finals can attest to that, but it needs a spark, something to bring people back, to ramp up interest in both the college and pro games. And as of right now, Clark vs Reese, LSU vs Iowa, are all coming back next year. How many people do you think will tune in to watch the rematch? Magic, Bird, and their rivalry catapulted the men’s college and pro games to where they are today. Women’s basketball needs the boost that only real rivalries can give.
Because sport at its core is drama. It’s why we love it so. Think about it, what if an athlete playing for those green idiots to the north did that stupid flappy bird thing at Jordyn Jenkins after beating us in the conference finals or semi-finals…?
…Oh, it would be on, on, and ON! Thousands would pack the crappy Convo when the women’s basketball team representing the green idiots to the north arrived in town, just to see them crushed and to revel in their defeat and utter humiliation.
And when the game ends, somewhere in the arena, somewhere in all that passion and chaos, Karen Aston and Jason Burton (head coach of the women’s basketball team representing the green idiots to the north) might look up at the packed and heaving stands and smile. Thank you, Angel Reese. Thank you, Caitlin Clark.
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