COLUMN: They Still Can’t See Angel Reese or Her Humanity

Some say that so-called villain Angel Reese got some comeuppance when her LSU Tigers lost to Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes in Monday night’s Elite Eight matchup. 

When Reese fouled out on a questionable call, hundreds of Iowa fans waved their goodbyes. They did so with the same aplomb Reese did when she bid farewell to a Middle Tennessee State opponent who fouled out during an NCAA tournament game a week prior. 

Iowa fans gave her the business. TV cameras caught Ted Lasso actor Jason Sudeikis doing Clark’s famous “You can’t see me” gesture. If you recall, Reese directed that very move at Clark in last year’s NCAA Women’s National Championship game when her Tigers trounced her Hawkeyes to win it all. 

The Monday night contest was a revenge opportunity for Iowa, with the winner advancing to the Final Four. So, a game of this magnitude was ripe for premium-grade trash talk, which will be recalled by fans, TV sports shows, YouTube commentaries, and group chats years from now. 

When you initiate the trash talk, turnabout is fair play, and no one is immune. 

And Clark’s supporters took full advantage. 

But here’s where the line gets drawn: Regarding trash talk etiquette, it’s all about keeping what you say within the bounds of the game. This includes player performance, what they did in a previous matchup, or even trash talk from the past they’ve engaged in. All of that is fair game. 

Seeing how people reacted to Reese’s tearful recall of all the awful things she had endured since winning last year was disturbing. 

In a press conference after LSU’s loss, Reese detailed what the last year has been like after reaching the pinnacle of her sport. 

“I’ve been through so much. I’ve seen so much. I’ve been attacked so many times,” she said. “Death threats, I’ve been sexualized, I’ve been threatened — so many things, and I’ve stood strong every single time.”

Since winning the national championship, she added, “I haven’t had peace since then.”

These detractors generally feel that Reese doesn’t deserve to cry about her treatment off the court because of her behavior on it. 

Black FOX Sports 1 analyst Emmanuel Acho said this about Reese: “In sports, you can’t act like the big bad wolf, then cry like Courage the Cowardly Dog.” Acho prefaced his remarks by saying he gave “a gender-neutral and racially indifferent take” on Reese. 

But what he and others have done is attempt to invalidate her feelings and deny her humanity, proving that Black women, especially those who are unabashed and accomplished like Reese, do not receive the same support, empathy, and protection as others.

White athletes like Clark, the current darling of women’s college basketball, are celebrated and cast as heroic for their trash talk and displays of braggadocio. Articles like this one broke down the origins of Clark’s “You Can’t See Me” celebration, which she got from actor and professional wrestler John Cena, who praised her for borrowing his move. 

Articles like this one pointed out the glaring double standard. 

How They See Angel 

This year, the difference in how Reese and Clark are portrayed was more apparent than ever. Two mainstream media stories, one on Clark and the other on Reese and LSU, bear out this notion. 

ESPN’s Wright Thompson, who has a reputation for producing beautifully crafted feature profiles, rightly highlighted what makes Clark a stellar basketball player. Friends, associates and scenes within the story depict her ultra-competitive and unapologetic nature.

In essence, that piece shows Clark in all her humanity, where her eccentricities are praised.

The same can’t be said for a recent LA Times column that compared Reese’s LSU Tigers to the UCLA Bruins, a team he covers. The column was published ahead of their Sweet 16 matchup on March 30.

Initially, LA Times writer Ben Bolch posed a question in print tinged with racist and sexist language: “Do you prefer America’s sweethearts or its dirty debutantes? Milk and cookies or Louisiana hot sauce?”  

You can read between the lines, or the actual lines, to figure out who Bolch viewed as dirty debutantes and who was — eye roll — Louisiana hot sauce. He even referred to the predominantly Black LSU Tigers as “villains.”

Though those descriptions have been edited out, what was left in about Reese again highlights a double standard:

Mulkey’s best player also can’t get out of her own way. A year after she taunted Caitlin Clark by giving the Iowa superstar the ring finger and mocking Clark’s hand-waving gesture late in the national championship game, Angel Reese is at it again. When Middle Tennessee’s Anastasiia Boldyreva fouled out of a second-round loss to LSU, Reese waved goodbye as a crying Boldyreva headed to the bench.

It must be noted that for Bolch to include that detail of Boldyreva crying in this sentence was his way of giving himself license to indulge his prejudices in print against Reese and her predominantly Black teammates.  

And sure, while Reese appeared to relish her role as a villain, she deserves empathy and support and none of the garbage she has been subjected to, especially by fans who channel their anti-Black vitriol through their disrespect and lack of empathy toward Reese.

This Friday, when Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes play Paige Bueckers’ UConn Huskies, I’ll be watching and rooting for a great game in which both stars engage in a bit of trash talk. 

I will also listen to the language broadcasters and pundits use to describe those players. Call me cynical, but I’m sure the conversation will be different, like how sports broadcasters praised Tom Brady for his fiery behavior but criticized Terrell Owens for his.   

But I’ll also be thinking about Reese and rooting for her to avenge Monday’s loss against Clark, which will most likely be as a professional player. Reese announced in Vogue magazine that she is going to the WNBA. 

“I’ve done everything I wanted to in college,” Reese said. “I’ve won a national championship, I’ve gotten (Southeastern Conference) Player of the Year, I’ve been an All-American. My ultimate goal is to be a pro — and to be one of the greatest basketball players to play, ever. I feel like I’m ready.”

The thing is, Reese did play the role of the villain on screen, but off it, she’s an inspiration and an unabashed success. 

Besides, what athlete in history has ever declared their next career move in a fashion magazine, the most prominent one in the world? 

Maybe, more than maybe, some folks don’t know how to handle a bold, confident and accomplished Black woman, and it shows. 


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