Sports can often thrust black athletes into situations where they must confront racial inequality. When first lady Jill Biden floated the idea of inviting Iowa’s women’s college basketball team – who were majority white – to the White House after losing to LSU, the opportunity for a unique lesson about group privilege presented itself. Before the idea could take hold, however, LSU star forward Angel Reese dismissed the notion as a “joke,” highlighting the discrepancies between how white privilege and black talent interact together in this situation.
Dr. Joseph N. Cooper, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Boston and an expert in education, race and culture, explains that this event points to a larger power dynamic at play throughout U.S. institutions. In his book From Exploitation Back to Empowerment, Cooper details that racism and prejudice are deeply entrenched in our society – something the majority of players on the championship-winning LSU Tigers knew firsthand. Despite a majority black lineup, the Tigers faced a double standard in comparison to the majority white Iowa Hawkeyes – who were celebrated for their prowess and described as hardworking, competitive and role models.
The same could not be said for Angel Reese whose celebratory gestures were called out as being “classless” by Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy. It was a stark contrast to the lack of criticism Caitlyn Clark faced for her on-court antics. This discrepancy is one of countless examples of how black people are expected to do more in order to gain the same level of recognition and access as their white peers.
Jill Biden’s faux pas is indicative of the historical racism that has been present in U.S. sports for a long time. Think of the 2007 controversy sparked by Don Imus’ derogatory remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team or Donald Sterling’s remarks made in 2014. Through this latest episode, it’s clear that black people are still seen as only being worthy of access or recognition through their excellence and performance.
It’s essential to understand and recognize the role racism and bigotry play in the sports world. As Dr. Cooper highlights it is key to move away from these ways of thinking and to embrace anti-racist practices in order to create a more equitable environment for all athletes. Along with continued education, it is possible to counteract the racism and prejudice that remains pervasive in our society.