ABOVE PHOTO: LSU’s Angel Reese reacts in front of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark during the second half of the NCAA Women’s Final Four championship basketball game Sunday, April 2, 2023, in Dallas. LSU won 102-85 to win the championship. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
By Darlene Superville
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday scrapped the idea of inviting the NCAA champion Louisiana State women’s basketball team along with Iowa’s players, who lost the title to LSU, to celebrate at the White House. His wife, Jill, had suggested such a nontraditional scenario a day earlier.
But the social media pushback to her suggestion, made on Monday, was swift and unexpected by her staff, and the commentary led her to drop the idea, too. Her spokesperson said Tuesday that the first lady also looked forward to welcoming LSU to the White House.
Caitlin Clark, Iowa’s star player, also said Louisiana State shouldn’t have to share the spotlight.
The president tweeted Tuesday that both LSU and the University of Connecticut, winner of the NCAA men’s basketball title, “showed us the best of what this country can be.”
“We can all learn a lot from watching these champions compete,” he said, “and I look forward to welcoming them at each of their White House visits.” He did not announce dates, and the comment suggested that Iowa will not be joining the winning teams.
UConn coach Dan Hurley said “it will be an honor to go to the White House” and called the prospect “one of the great thrills of winning something like this.”
Following LSU’s victory, coach Kim Mulkey said she would go to the White House if invited. There was no immediate comment from Connecticut, but the team has made the trip to the White House after winning the NCAA title game in prior years.
The first lady, who is a big sports fan, had watched LSU’s 102-85 victory over Iowa from the stands in the Dallas arena on Sunday alongside tennis great Billie Jean King and several college athletes.
During an appearance Monday in Denver with Colorado lawmakers, Jill Biden followed up by praising Iowa’s sportsmanship and congratulated both teams on their performance. She noted the long-standing White House tradition of celebrating championship sports teams — and added a twist.
“I know we’ll have the champions come to the White House, we always do. So, we hope LSU will come,” she said. “But, you know, I’m going to tell Joe I think Iowa should come, too, because they played such a good game.”
The suggestion didn’t go over well. LSU star Angel Reese, who was honored as Most Outstanding Player, on Monday tweeted a link to a story on Jill Biden’s remarks. “A JOKE,” Reese wrote, along with three rolling-on-floor-laughing emojis.
Others commenting on social media noted the racial dynamics involved, saying that only winners should be rewarded with a White House visit and that hosting both teams would detract from the achievement by LSU’s team, which is predominantly Black. The Iowa team is largely white. Others noted the important role of Black women in Democratic Party politics.
Vanessa Valdivia, a spokesperson for Jill Biden, said the first lady was excited by watching the women’s game and meant no disrespect to LSU.
“Her comments in Colorado were intended to applaud the historic game and all women athletes,” Valdivia tweeted Tuesday. “She looks forward to celebrating the LSU Tigers on their championship win at the White House.”
During her remarks in Colorado, the first lady also talked about how U.S. women have excelled in athletics since Title IX in 1972 gave women equal rights in sports at schools that receive federal funding.
Clark, asked in an interview if she wanted to go to the White House as a runner-up, said such a visit would be a “pretty cool moment” for the Louisiana team to enjoy alone.
“I don’t think runner-ups usually go the the White House,” she told ESPN. “I think LSU should, you know, enjoy that moment for them and congratulations. Obviously, they deserve to go there. Maybe I could go to the White House on different terms, though.”
Lisa Bluder, Iowa’s coach, echoed Clark’s comments, adding on Twitter that “we would welcome the First Lady and President to come to Iowa’s ‘House’ – Carver Hawkeye Arena – any time!”
The pushback over the first lady’s NCAA comments recalled an episode last year when she apologized for saying Latinos are “as unique” as the breakfast tacos served in San Antonio. She had made the comment during a speech in that Texas city to UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists and others registered their offense on social media, with the journalists’ organization tweeting, “We are not tacos.”
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