Complaints about female athletes taunting shows need for equality


Getty Images: Matthew Holst

Point guard of the University of Iowa women’s basketball team Caitlin Clark celebrating in-game in the second round of the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 19. Clark scored a total of 191 points throughout the tournament which broke the record for the most points scored in a single NCAA Tournament for both men’s and women’s.

The female athletes in sports are tirelessly critiqued and shamed for aspects of the game that men are allowed to practice freely.

The “you can’t see me” hand gesture has gone viral since the NCAA women’s basketball championship concluded on April 2. Originally coined by rapper Tony Yayo and later popularized by WWE star John Cena, the infamous gesture is one of countless forms of trash-talk present in sports and entertainment.

Yet when the “you can’t see me” gesture was used during the women’s NCAA basketball games, the once praising reaction from fans quickly turned to harsh critiques of athlete character.

Caitlin Clark, a 21-year-old point guard on the University of Iowa women’s basketball team, used the taunt first during a game against the University of Louisville in the elite 8 after dropping the first 40-point triple-double in both men’s and women’s NCAA history.

After Louisiana State University beat Iowa in the championship game, Angel Reese, a 20-year-old point guard on the LSU Tigers, taunted Clark with the same gesture.

While the initial reaction to Clark’s gesture wasn’t overwhelmingly negative, the same cannot be said for Reese. Vulgar language and harassment spewed from all corners of Twitter, dubbing Reese as classless and unsportsmanlike.

With 9.9 million people tuned into the game, Reese was on the biggest stage in women’s college basketball history marking various records for women’s basketball and the NCAA, but was ridiculed for celebrating her victory. When Reese brought more taunting on top of Clark’s first gesture, audiences were disappointed in the trend of trash-talking on the court.

Outside of the noticeably racist implicit bias fans have on sports and their differing reactions to a white and black female athlete conducting themselves in the same manner, the worst part is that it would never have been blown to this proportion if it were male athletes.

In 2013, Richard Sherman, a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, taunted quarterback Tom Brady after the Seahawks won, getting in Brady’s face and asking “Are you mad bro?”

Athletes on ESPN later revisited the subject and laughed it off in an interview with Sherman, dubbing it as part of the game. Imagine if Reese had asked Clark the same question rather than her nonverbal taunt, imagine the rage sports fans would pour into her then.

There’s a standard that female athletes are held to about how they conduct themselves in game of play that no male player has ever experienced. They are expected to refrain from vulgar language, taunting, talking back or even getting too aggressive.

All of these qualities are accepted and even expected in male sports.

But this isn’t the first time women showing emotion in sports has been criticized in the media.

When Serena Williams broke her tennis racket out of frustration in the 2018 U.S. Open Finals, critics turned to the media to spread an outlandish and offensive cartoon mocking her behavior and bashing her as an athlete.

Sports come with emotion. As a collegiate athlete myself, who has dedicated 15 years to playing softball, I can vouch that the game will push you to your emotional brink. Playing with this passion sets apart the good from the great.

Female athletes have struggled to gain the recognition that male athletes have and even when the spotlight is on them, the attention is overwhelmingly negative.

It is utterly unreasonable to bash female athletes for allowing fans to see them play with emotion.

Taunting after an impressive win against one of the most prominent women’s basketball athletes in the nation is worthy of a celebration like that, with all that hard work paid off. Breaking a racket after losing in the biggest tennis match in the country is absorbing the frustration of defeat.

Stripping them of their emotion is essentially stripping them of their passion. Women can be aggressive, passionate, frustrated and celebratory. Silencing this love for the game, this passion, keeps women’s sports inferior to men’s sports, a concept assumed to be outdated.

As Clark said in an ESPN interview on Tuesday in response to Reese’s taunting, “Men have always had trash talk, you should be able to play with that emotion, that’s how every girl should continue to play.”