This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament has attracted unprecedented levels of viewership and media attention. This can largely be attributed to stand-out players, including LSU's Angel Reese and Iowa's Caitlin Clark.
These two rising stars went head to head in the tournament's final, which became the most-watched game in women’s college basketball to date, with a record 9.9 million viewers.
Reese, named Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, and Clark, dubbed 2023 Player of the Year, both shattered records this season, consequently commanding the attention of the world and changing the game for women’s basketball. But their performances on the court were not the sole contributors to this increased public engagement.
The world has been strangely and ironically fascinated by these top women athletes trash talking. This tweet from SportsCenter of Reese doing John Cena's "You can’t see me" gesture to Clark during the final has more than 87 million views.
And one must ask themselves, would this sort of discourse come up during a men’s sporting event?
Trash talk has not only been normalized for men but has even been ranked as if to celebrate those who master the act. But when ESPN’s Instagram centered much of its media coverage of the women’s tournament around the trash talk engaged by Clark and Reese, it resulted in not only likes but also unequal levels of criticism.
Reese faced brutal backlash from the public and from prominent public figures, such as Barstool Founder David Portnoy, who called her a "classless piece of sh*t" on Twitter.
Portnoy tried to defend himself, claiming that he was commenting on the technicalities and specifics of the trash talking, and denied the role of race in his response. But when a public figure labels a Black athlete as classless, there is a historical weight to that comment.
This is a clear case of intent versus impact, and Portnoy should have been more aware of the ripple effect of his words, especially when he is speaking to millions of followers.
But Reese is no stranger to this kind of hypocritical and ignorant criticism.
Reese has said, "All year, I was critiqued for who I was. I don’t fit the narrative … I don’t fit the 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, and y’all don’t say nothing ... So this is for the girls that look like me."
And this is what is important to recognize. Reese has received much more scrutiny for her trash talk, and society needs to ask themselves why and evaluate their biases.
Reese, as a Black woman, faces a distinct intersection of misogyny and racism. This combination of bigotry can be described as "misogynoir," which perpetuates inaccurate, harmful stereotypes about Black women, such as being overly aggressive and hypersexualized.
As a result, when Black women athletes engage in any type of trash talk, they are labeled as "classless" and "ghetto" instead of as competitive and driven. The media's coverage of Clark juxtaposes Reese, whose race makes her automatically seen in a different light, a very different light than Clark, who is essentially ESPN’s perfect princess.
This is not Clark’s fault, though.
Clark has made clear that Reese should not have faced the criticism she did and that she respects her fellow player's game. She also made a statement that says, "Men have always had trash talk ... You should be able to play with emotion … That’s how every girl should continue to play."
And that is what the media has done — they milked the situation between Clark and Reese to make it seem like a personal issue between the two when in reality, the focus should have been on the discrepancy in how two accomplished women athletes are portrayed and received by the public.
One, if trash talking is viewed as un-ladylike for women but acceptable and entertaining for men, women athletes will have to play nice even in the heat of the moment in order to garner public acceptance. Unlike men, they are not taken seriously as true competitors.
Second, trash talk being seen as women empowerment for Clark but classless for Reese is asserting a dangerous double standard in regard to race. And it is concerning when prominent public figures like Portnoy do not recognize this and actively dismiss the role of race in this conversation.
It is imperative that society does not actively deny the experience of Black women and the discrimination they face. If people do not start to question their immediate assumptions and perceptions of Black women athletes and women athletes as a whole, dangerous rhetoric will continue in the media and wider public discourse.
Either support trash talk or do not. Do not hold certain groups of people to different standards.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 155th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.