Speak On It: Dawn Staley Defends South Carolina Against “Bully” Claims

The NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament may have ended, but the larger conversation around how the media reports on Black players is still in play.

WNBA legend and South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley took to the podium after her team’s 77-73 loss to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday night to set the record straight about how her players have been portrayed in the media. Throughout most of the tournament, but especially ahead of their Final Four appearance, some very choice words were used to describe the size and playing style of the Gamecocks. For some fans, it seemed to affect how they were officiated, especially in the weekend’s game against Iowa, a predominately white team.

“We’re not bar fighters. We’re not thugs. We’re not monkeys. We’re not street fighters,” Staley said. “This team exemplifies how you need to approach basketball on the court and off the court. And I do think that that’s sometimes brought into the game, and it hurts.”

Staley and her players have been successful—building an impressive 42-0 record—amid prejudice tainting their historic journey’s talent and narrative. “Don’t judge us by the color of our skin. Judge us by how we approach the game,” Staley said. “You may not like how we play the game … that’s the way we play. That’s the way I coach. We’re not changing.”

Bias in sports media has been a long-time issue that disproportionately lends itself to profiling Black student-athletes, specifically. A point Coach Staley also spoke to in her press conference. “You can not like our team, you can not like me, but when you’re saying things that you probably should be saying in your home on the phone or texting out in public and you’re being heard, and you are a national writer for our sport, it just confirms what we already know,” she said.

Her words were further confirmed on Sunday evening when the LSU Lady Tigers defeated Iowa’s Hawkeyes to win the national title. In a show of celebration, the Tiger’s leader, Angel Reese, who has put together a remarkable season of accolades, mimicked the actions of her rival, Caitlin Clark, who taunted South Carolina players with a “you can’t see me” action after her 40-point performance on Friday. While Clark was praised for her impressive play and elite trash talk, Reese was ridiculed as being “classless” and displaying “unsportsmanlike” behavior.

Let’s hope sports media learns a valuable lesson from Coach Dawn Staley.