Angel Reese Rises Above the Hate for the Betterment of Black and Female Athletes

In the previous issue of The Reflector, I wrote an article looking into the “Caitlin Clark Effect” and Clark’s impact on women’s sports. I mentioned several other high-profile women’s basketball players, but there is one that I would like to discuss further. Much like Clark, Louisiana State University Forward Angel Reese — who was drafted to seventh overall by the Chicago Sky on April 15 — has received tons of media attention, especially following LSU’s championship win in 2023. However, much of the coverage on Reese has been negative. While Clark has often been revered as an icon for women’s basketball, the media has just as quickly turned Reese into a villain, seemingly all because of her race. 

Forbes contributing author Janice Gassam Asare stated in an analysis article referencing the media’s treatment of Reese that, “There is a long history of media misogynoir [prejudice against Black women] in sports. … The media mistreatment of Black female athletes like Sha’Carri Richardson, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and Naomi Osaka is not a new phenomenon.” While Reese has embraced her role and played it well, the underlying cause for her infamy is, frankly, unacceptable. 

Although Reese had been getting media attention well before the national championship game in 2023, social media blew up when she made taunting gestures toward Clark in the finals. She waved her hand in front of her face several times, imitating the “You can’t see me” taunt (originally used by pro wrestler John Cena) that Clark had done earlier in the tournament. She also pointed to her ring finger while facing Clark, indicating that her team was about to win the game and the national title. Clark was frequently asked about the incident following that game, to which she said that Reese should not be criticized for this gesture because they are both fierce competitors and were both talking trash plenty throughout the tournament, according to CNN. Regardless of Clark’s defense of Reese, Reese said she has continued to receive death threats and hate following her huge win last year, according to the Daily Advertiser.

Following LSU’s loss to the University of Iowa—a rematch of the 2023 title game with a trip to the Final Four on the line—Reese spoke out about the hate she has been getting since her team won the championship last year. In her post-game interview, she said she has been getting sexualized, harassed and received death threats. The real question I pose is, “Why?” Why does Reese receive hate and threats for taunting another competitor when Clark has done the same things? To me, the answer is quite simple. Clark is white, and Reese is Black. Reese said she has been called “classless” and “too ghetto” before because of the way she plays, according to Forbes, while Clark was commended for doing many of the same taunts. Calling a Black woman nasty names because she is fired up, a fierce competitor and passionate while playing the game she loves is disgusting and needs to stop. 

Now, I am not so naive to think this is a new development or it only happens to Reese. In fact, after reading about Indianapolis’s Crispus Attucks High School and their battles with segregation and racism in the 1950s for one of my history classes, I thought it was interesting and disappointing that Black athletes are still fighting racism in 2024. Of course, Black athletes have come a long way since the Jim Crow Era, but it is important to note that the fight is not over. These athletes should not have to suffer criticism and threats for playing the game their way and having fun with it when white athletes are often doing the same thing. Much like the athletes who competed for Crispus Attucks, Black athletes—especially women—are expected to be role models for the Black community. While of course, it is important for young Black girls to have someone to look up to in the sports world, it is equally damaging for them to see the hate players like Reese are getting. I hope this does not discourage any young Black girls or girls of color from pursuing sports, and that they look up to Reese for all the good she has done and how strong she has been in enduring the hate. 

Despite the threats and negativity she’s been on the receiving end of, Reese has become incredibly successful, both on and off the court. This season, she was part of the AP Second Team All-America, a one-time National Player of the Week, first team All-SEC (Southeastern Conference) and SEC Player of the Year, according to her bio on LSU’s website. According to Sports Illustrated, Reese has an estimated name, image and likeness value of $1.7 million, ranking eighth overall in student-athlete NIL value. She even announced that she would be declaring for the WNBA draft with Vogue, telling them that she “likes to do everything big.” She has also started the Angel C. Reese Foundation, which is dedicated to fostering equity for girls and underrepresented groups through innovative and impactful initiatives, according to the foundation’s website. Following her national title, she also donated $12,000 to her high school in Baltimore in order to cover a year’s worth of tuition for the school’s women’s basketball team, according to the LSU Wire. Regardless of the hate she has gotten online, Reese is dedicated to the betterment of women’s basketball and uplifting Black athletes. 

As women’s basketball continues to grow in popularity and viewership, it is important to not only recognize the Black athletes playing and uplifting the game today but also the ones that came before them. Cheryl Swoopes, Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings and Dawn Staley are just a few of the names I could list as trailblazers who came before Reese. We need to recognize and appreciate the greatness that Black women bring to the game of basketball, both past, present and future.

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