Much has been made about the recent exchanges between Iowa Hawkeyes basketball star Caitlin Clark and LSU standout Angel Reese. Even many who don’t follow women’s college basketball – and by the way, if you don’t, you are missing out – have commented and/or taken a side in the debate.
As for me, well, they were both wrong. And youngsters do not need to be looking up to either of them – at least not in this particular instance. But then, with all due respect to athletes everywhere, youngsters need to be looking up more to folks like teachers and firefighters, folks who mold and save lives.
I am old school when it comes to sportsmanship. I’m not big on the NIL (they’re getting a college scholarship worth more than both your house and mine combined, not our fault if they don’t use it), don’t care for the overuse of the transfer portal (one time and after that you have to sit out a year is my choice) and don’t get me started on the dent that could be made in world hunger if pro athletes – and owners – didn’t fight over every single dollar in existence to satisfy their own egos.
Just be good sports. Don’t taunt. You’re opponents, not enemies. Show respect.
It’s very simple, really. Obey the Golden Rule. Do you think Moses taunted Ramses after he got his people out of Egypt? Did Ghandi look at others and say something like, “In your face!” after he fasted for 40 days?
Reese taunted Clark as LSU was wrapping up its 102-85 victory over Iowa in the national championship game. Earlier in the tournament, Clark did some taunting of her own.
Sadly, talent and class don’t always walk side-by-side. Be humble in defeat and victory, it sends a much classier message.
Case in point, when the Carolina Panthers lost the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos several years ago, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton spent the entire press conference pouting and sulking, offering answers such as “You saw the game,” if he even bothered to answer at all.
Go even further back and you’ll find one of the great examples of stepping up. In 1982 Georgetown basketball player Fred Brown made one of the biggest gaffs in sports history when he mistakenly threw the ball to North Carolina’s James Worthy in the final seconds, sealing a 63-62 Carolina win. Afterwards, Brown answered every hard question from every reporter.
By the way, I was watching and I don’t recall Worthy running up to Brown with some choice words to make Brown feel even worse. Can’t rule that possibility out at all in today’s sports world.
What did Reese and Clark do, you ask? Reese gave Clark the “You can’t see me” gesture, her hand in front of her face, something Clark has done herself, and Reese also pointed to her finger, signifying she would soon have a ring and Clark wouldn’t.
In a previous game, Clark waved off an opponent as if to indicate she was not worth guarding.
It’s one thing to defeat an opponent and another to disrespect them. Let the talent and the score do the talking, not any other actions.
And, while I’m not a big fan of trash talking, either, at least that is a little more low key. That has been around since David whispered to Goliath something like, “You ain’t so big.”
Most times those watching can’t hear trash talking, it’s typically limited to the court without gestures – though there have been times when an opponent responds with a fist or shove. And never, ever go as far as to insult one’s mother, grandma or any other family member, for that matter. And we all have at least one or two members somewhere in our family who might even live up to being trash talked, but the classy move is to still not go there.
Besides, as my dad used to say, “If you don’t know what weird member of the family the others are talking about it, odds are it’s you.”
None were better than Larry Bird when it came to trash talking. He would simply say something like he was going to score 40 points and only shoot left-handed to an opponent – and then go out and do it.
In 2011 Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry had the NBA championship trophy tattooed on his arm. They then proceeded to win the title that season. It was the ultimate trash talk without saying a word.
It might be important to note that in both instances they backed up what they said. Muhammed Ali once said it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. Well, it still is, but it looks a lot better than saying you’re going to hit two home runs and then striking out four times.
Sports are passionate. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment. It’s just that those moments should not involve trying to humiliate another human.
On the other hand, these two great athletes should not be defined completely by these actions. I’m sure in real life they are both good people.
But good people do make bad mistakes. I like to think most of us are inherently good, but if we’re honest we’ve all our not-so-good moments in life.
As cliche’ as it sounds, young people watch star athletes. They want to be like them, and too many times emulate them – which in many cases can be a good thing, if the athlete is a class act like Pat Mahomes, Dirk Nowitzki or Nolan Ryan.
There is no room for taunting and/or celebrating to the belittlement of your opponent. For example, I’m all for funny celebrations, especially those in the end zone that involve some sort of team involvement.
However, high stepping backwards the final 10 yards and doing a back flip into the end zone? Seriously? There is no spotlight so don’t act like you should have one on you.
Don’t stand over an opponent you’ve just sacked or dunked over, don’t point to a pitcher you just hit a home run off of. Besides looking like a bully or jackass, you can sometimes look downright foolish. Case in point, years ago a Texas A&M football player celebrated a sack when the Aggies were losing 77-0 to Oklahoma.
I can’t remember who said it, perhaps the great Darrell Royal or the always quick-witted Bum Phillips, but I’ve always loved the statement, “Act like you’ve been there before and you know you’re coming back.”
So, in the words of the legendary anchorman Ron Burgundy, I say to Reese, Clark and many other athletes who should know better, “You stay classy.”