The biggest obstacle facing women’s sports in this country is not a lack of talent, athletic stamina, or even public interest.

they are pearls

As in the men who grab theirs every time a female sports star has the temerity to act like one.

This weekend, women’s college basketball had three of the most exciting and widely seen Final Four games in its history. Two big surprises: LSU Virginia Tech loss and Iowa’s victory over South Carolina, led to a final in which sophomore Angel Reese and the deep bench of LSU outperformed the phenomenal star power of Iowa junior Caitlin Clark, and the team she has led to so many wins.

Packed with fiercely competitive and wonderfully orchestrated gameplay, these edge-of-your-seat games will disprove the notion that women’s sports aren’t nearly as exciting as men’s.

But after LSU’s hard-fought victory, some people wanted to talk about what they considered unladylike conduct.

In the final minutes of the game, Reese trashed Clark, wiping her hand across her face in a “don’t you see me” motion (created and made famous by WWE star turned actor John Cena) before pointing to his ring finger, indicating where the championship ring would fall.

Clark, who scored 30 points in the game, and an amazing 41 to defeat South Carolina, she remained undaunted: she actually plays basketball and knows that trashing, talking or gesturing, is part of the game. She has done it herself.

Many men, however, including David Axelrod, Keith Olbermann, Danny Kanell and founder of Barstool david portnoythey took it upon themselves to publicly admonish Reese, calling her “classless” and worse.

Social and legacy media blew up, with many pointing out that Clark had used the same “don’t see me” gesture in a previous game and that the only difference between the two cases was that Clark is white and Reese is black.

Which is impossible to argue with since, when Clark did it, many praised her, including Cena.

reese she addressed the problem herself at the post-game press conference, noting that “when other people do it,” the media doesn’t say anything, that she was simply responding to the “disrespect” she felt had been directed at a member of her conference, and that she has always faced criticism that she was “too neighborhood…too ghetto” to fit into women’s college basketball.

That she and her team had just completely owned.

It wasn’t the first time in the Final Four that a black woman felt compelled to stand up for the kinds of things that in a men’s game would just be considered, you know, playing.

Reese was echoing what the South Carolina coach said. Dawn Staley had said two days earlier, when asked about his team, which is mostly black, drawing a reputation for bullying. “We are not bar fighters. We are not thugs. We are not monkeys. We are not street fighters,” Staley said, referring to the racist language that has been used to describe them. “This team exemplifies how you should approach basketball, on and off the court.”

When brought to his attention about the racism of his “classless” comments, Olbermann apologized, but many of Reese’s critics simply doubled down, saying that Clark had also been classless.

Trash-talking in sports isn’t, of course, limited to players: heated hyperbole is also the lingua franca of columnists and commentators, and certain athletes, including Reese and especially Clark, have benefited from exaggerated descriptions of their abilities. .

But women are absolutely and undeniably held to a different standard of behavior than their male counterparts. Remember when sportswriters lost their minds after Brandi Chastain ripped her shirt off after scoring the game-winning penalty kick against China in the Women’s World Cup final? Something that victorious male soccer players did on a regular basis?

Or Serena Williams being penalized for the kind of heated language that helped make Jimmy Connors and other male tennis players famous?

It’s not just the fundamental unfairness of such examples that infuriates. It is the systematic crushing of the kind of personal passion and personality in female athletes that their male counterparts are encouraged to exhibit.

And of course I will mention trash king, larry bird, here, along with his still famous, openly spiteful fights on (and occasionally off) the pitch with competitors, including and especially magic johnsonwith whom he also shared a friendship of years.

People may not have liked Bird (especially if you lived in Los Angeles) or his style of play, but no one told him to put his hands down and be nice.

Heated exchanges, “I’m the best” bragging, midgame shenanigans, and personal rivalries have been as important to the success of certain male players and men’s sports in general as any display of skill.

For good reason.

Displays of anger, ambition, frustration, and pride, player-to-player brawls, unlikely friendships, and enduring rivalries humanize the game. The outbursts and competitive exchanges remind the audience that athletes often feel the same emotions as their fans.

Jumping on Reese for a bit of well-deserved if unnecessary bravado, or coming to Clark’s defense like she’s a 12-year-old girl who just walked into a national finals game, diminishes what these women really are: college athletes from first level in the midst of redefining gameplay.

It’s also a display of the same sexism that has kept women’s sports second to men’s. Those who argue against pay parity or women’s sports arenas inevitably claim that female athletes should be paid less because they don’t generate the kind of ratings and profits that men do. Poor marketing and stingy investment are rarely cited as factors. It’s just that the games are not that intense and entertaining.

Well, the first way to ensure that women’s games aren’t so intense and entertaining is to publicly shame any women who display the same kinds of emotions or engage in the same kinds of behavior that make men’s games so intense. and entertaining.

The insistence that women act “nice” or “stylish” has kept women out of virtually every sphere of power in this country, from presidential politics (“you’re nice enough, Hillary”) to television. of prestige (imagine if Tony Soprano had been a woman, you can’t, because no female character could have gotten away with it).

Study after study shows that characteristics perceived as hallmarks of ambition, confidence, and focus in men are seen as manipulative, arrogant, and cold in women.

Add racism to the mix, and it’s not just the national championship that Angel Reese helped win.

I can’t think of anything better for women’s basketball than a heated public rivalry between Reese and Clark, complete with repeated on-court exchanges and legendary gossip stories being passed down to the pros.

Maybe something like Bird and Johnson would develop into a friendship off the court. Maybe he wouldn’t.

But as Sunday’s game showed, it would be great basketball.

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