Trash or Trash Talk?

While today there is plenty of attention is being focused on DJT’s arraignment and its political implications I feel the kerfuffle surrounding the NCAA women’s basketball championship has and will have more cultural significance. Angel Reese, outstanding woman’s basketball player for the LSU Tigers, 2023 champions, has been, often mercilessly, attacked for making demeaning and hurtful gestures and using foul language directed at superstar Caitlin Clark of the Iowa Hawkeyes. There is also evidence of Clark making the same gesture toward Reese but she seems to be facing less vitriol than Angel. Angel is Black, Caitlin is White and they are both women; women who have recently been thrust into the national spotlight.

Since Sunday’s championship game, there have been more tweets, quotes, and opinions voiced about this than Carter has pills. There are claims of racism and sexism, accusations, and defenses, from more angles than has a geodesic dome. Even flamboyant and controversial LSU coach Kim Mulkey is being criticized for her sartorial audacity. I say let the woman represent. But seriously, there is great sociocultural import here and it is not pretty. 

The primary issues that anger me and should anger you are not the ‘ism’ charges themselves or even the over the top coach’s outfits. Nor are they the trash talk and actions themselves. It is the hypocrisy of this commentary and the fact that in an evolved civilized world all of this should never have happened.

Trash talk has happened in basketball almost since Naismith set up the first peach baskets. In forums like the NBA, it can and often does get particularly graphic and vicious. Yet if you examine players who have been identified as the worst trash-talkers you find a who’s who of all-time great players. Universally accepted as the worst offender was Larry Bird whose episodes will his biggest rival, Magic Johnson, were considered either epic and legendary, or vile and obscene, depending on your point of view. Another player at the top of the list was Michael Jordan, widely considered basketball’s GOAT. These are two of the greatest players in the history of the game and rather than being reviled as crass and unsportsmanlike they are revered, even worshiped, as role models and heroes who saved the game and brought it to the height of popularity and profitability it enjoys today.

My point is the hypocrisy here is astounding. When cultural icons, wealthy men both white and black do this it is shrugged off as ‘part of the game’. When two young women student athletes, one white and one black, do virtually the same thing, the Twittersphere goes viral with flame wars and attacks unbecoming alleged adults. Yes, it is racism. Yes, it is sexism. But we are nearly one-quarter of the way through the 21st century. When in god’s name are we going to work through these infantile, unhealthy, foolish, cruel, uncivilized, wicked, and psychically wasteful cancers of sexism and racism? This should not be happening. This is supposed to be an advanced human culture, not toddlers screaming “I hate you” to anyone within listening distance. I continue to be appalled at the damaging stubborn stagnation of this conflict of willful obstinance. Yet there is only inertia present when the outrage fades and society is supposed to be doing the dirty work of real change

I might not have another 25 years. Will I ever see the day when the public response to such an event is a simple ‘Did you see those two players trash talking. Not very good role models” with no mention of gender or race? And when the only lesson for the players is learning that their actions on the national stage are more consequential than when they were in a high school gym and not on national TV. This should have been just another 3rd page sports section event and not a bloviated something that should never have been. A minor blip on that day’s Sportscenter.

The racism and sexism of this event are sinful examples of a mainstream tragedy of moral failure; grossly vestigial and much, much, much, much overdue for amputation from America’s spiritual body.

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