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The check-in: Angel Reese deserves better than this
I'm not surprised by Kim Mulkey's behavior. But it's still disappointing.
1. Kim Mulkey isn’t helping.
It’s been an absolutely thrilling start to the women’s college basketball season, with the game’s parity and star power on display in a game-in, game-out basis. November has felt an awfully lot like March.
But, unfortunately, the most mainstream story hasn’t been about what’s happening on the court — it’s about who has been missing from the court.
Angel Reese, a unanimous first-team All American last year and the Most Outstanding Player at the 2023 NCAA Tournament, didn’t play in the second half of LSU’s 109-79 win over Kent State last week, and wasn’t with the team at all for its 73-50 victory over Southeastern Louisiana on Friday. It’s still unknown if she will play in LSU’s home game on Monday night against Texas Southern, or travel with the team to the Cayman Islands for the Cayman Island Classic over Thanksgiving weekend.
There has been no transparency at all about why LSU’s star player is sidelined.
Mulkey said that Reese didn’t play the second half of the Kent State game due to a “coach’s decision.” When asked why Reese wasn’t with the team at all on Sunday, Mulkey said, “You want me to explain why? It’s very obvious Angel was not in uniform. Angel is a part of this basketball team and we hope to see her sooner than later.” (This was the same press conference where Mulkey, who was sniffling and coughing, openly mocked covid and said she wasn’t sorry if she got reporters sick the week before Thanksgiving.)
We don’t know why one of the best and most prominent players in college basketball isn’t playing for the defending national champions. Mulkey’s vagueness — she won’t even clarify whether Reese is officially suspended or not — has left room for ugly rumors to swirl.
Now, look: There would be a lot of chatter and curiosity if any athlete as high-profile as Reese was mysteriously missing from their team without explanation. But the commentary about Reese? The vast majority of it is teeming with racism. I’ve seen TikTok after TikTok, tweet after tweet, comment after comment, calling Reese a “thug.” People can barely contain their excitement about the proud, successful, unapologetic Black 21-year-old getting “put in her place.” It’s vicious out there.
The most prominent rumor is that Reese has been suspended because her grades — a rumor fueled by an online exchange between Reese’s mom, Angel Webb Reese, and Kia Brooks, the mom of Reese’s teammate, Flau’jae Johnson. Webb Reese posted an Instagram story complaining about grammar in text messages, and Brooks seemingly responded in a story of her own, saying, “You definitely know about grammar errors when your daughter got a 2.0 or less GPA. … Stop being petty, fake and hateful, and take responsibility for you and your daughter’s actions.” (Yeah, things are pretty messy right now at LSU.)
The thing is, if this alleged suspension had to do with grades, it makes little sense that it began halfway through the fourth game of the season, as opposed to the start of the year. But that isn’t stopping people from taking the rumor as fact and using it as an excuse to call Reese stupid and lazy.
Let me be clear: I’m not advocating for Reese to be treated with kid gloves, and she’s not immune from criticism. If she broke team rules, she should face consequences. It has been a life-changing year for Reese; she transferred from Maryland to LSU, became an internet sensation as the “Bayou Barbie,” became a millionaire overnight thanks to NIL deals, then won a national championship and found herself become a household name — and the target of racist attacks — when her gestures towards Iowa’s Caitlin Clark were scrutinized. It would be more than understandable if she was struggling to adjust and prioritize properly.
But through it all, LSU and Mulkey have been happy to capitalize off of Reese’s on-and-off-court success via a high-profile recruiting class, transfer-portal triumphs, and a lucrative contract extension. And I can’t help but wonder, have they given her the proper support to make this transition easier to navigate? Has anyone been holding her accountable behind the scenes?
Sometimes, I admit, it’s hard for me to feel sympathy for players who chose to play for Mulkey. After all, they knew — or, at least, should have known — who Mulkey was before they went to play for her. This is a woman who has a history of homophobia, who has mocked sexual assault survivors, who defiantly took her predominantly-Black Baylor national championship team to celebrate at Donald Trump’s White House. This is a coach who was happy to have Brittney Griner lead her team to a national championship, but couldn’t even be bothered to speak up for Griner when she was wrongly imprisoned in Russia. There was absolutely no reason to believe that Mulkey would be there for her players in down times.
But it’s still excruciating to watch Reese left out in the cold like this. I don’t have all the answers, and I definitely don’t know all the facts, but I do think the way that Mulkey is handling this is doing more harm than good. And I know that there has to be a way to discipline a player and hold them accountable (if this even is a disciplinary matter, we don’t know) without leaving them completely vulnerable to the racist wolves. Angel Reese deserves better than this. And Mulkey does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.
2. The Erin Matson story just keeps getting better.
The University of North Carolina, ranked No. 1, won its 11th women’s field hockey national championship on Sunday in a dramatic overtime shootout over No. 2 Northwestern.
This is UNC’s fifth field hockey championship in six years, and all of them have something in common: Erin Matson.
As a player, Matson won four national championships with the Tar Heels. Then, right after graduating, she became the head coach of the team at the age of 23. She’s believed to be the youngest head coach in any NCAA Division I sport. Brendan Marks from The Athletic has a wonderful piece about how Matson lobbied for the job, and how she managed to make the tricky transition from teammate to coach in a matter of weeks.
Matson took over from Karen Shelton, who coached at UNC for 42 years and won 10 NCAA titles and 25 ACC championships.
For any head coach to win a national title in their first year at the helm is absolutely incredible. To do it at just 23 years old? Inconceivable, truly. What a story.
3. Let’s talk WoSo news.
A few *very brief* nuggets:
In England, Manchester United and Manchester City faced off in the Manchester Derby on Sunday in front of a record 43,615 fans at Old Trafford. Man City won 3-1 and moved to third on the WSL table, one spot ahead of United.
The USWNT roster was just released for December friendlies against China, and in my non-expert opinion, it is very, very good! The future is here, and I’m excited. (There are.a few notable names left off the roster — such as Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn, and Andi Sullivan — but don’t fret, those players are still in the mix, they’re jsut getting some extra rest after a grueling season and giving some of the youngsters a chance to be evaluated.)
It’s NWSL free agency season, friends. With the 2024 expansion draft for the Utah Royals and Bay FC coming up on December 15, expect a lot of action. Our friend Pardeep Cattry has a good free agency tracker up on CBS Sports, so be sure to follow along. Also, today teams are making end-of-season roster decisions, so be on the lookout for that.
The quarterfinals are set for the NCAA women’s soccer tournament, and the match-ups are to die for. Tune in over the weekend!
4. Congratulations, Amy Yang!
Amy Yang, a 34-year-old golfer from South Korea, won the prestigious CME Group Tour Championship on Sunday with a final-round 66 that included three birdies, an eagle, and no bogeys on the back nine. The win came with a $2 million paycheck, the largest in women’s golf. This was Yang’s fifth career LPGA win and first in the United States.
Click the Instagram post below to watch Yang be literally flooded with congratulations in the form of one of the largest champagne showers I’ve ever seen on the LPGA. Really shows how well loved and respected Yang is by her competitors.
“I'm just so grateful. They mean a lot to me,” Yang said. “They're like family out on Tour. They're just all sweet friends. I'm so grateful to see them on the 18th, and I'm sure down the road I'll do the same for them, too.”
Also, congratulations to Lilia Vu, whose fourth-place finish in the tour championship was enough to nab her the LPGA Player of the Year award. Vu won two majors this season and is world No. 1, so it is very much deserved.
5. College gymnastics is rife with abuse.
Molly Hensley-Clancy and Emily Giambalvo wrote a must-read dive into abuse in college gymnastics over at the Washington Post. College gymnastics has the reputation of being more fun and healthy than elite gymnastics, but this report reveals that unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
One of the most disturbing revelations was that University of North Carolina gymnast Raine Gordon was forced to sign a weight-loss contract by head coach Derek Galvin and assistant coach Amy Smith. The contract directly led her to develop an eating disorder:
Later, after Gordon was suspended from the team for drinking during her freshman year in 2017, she said, the head coach, Galvin, and Smith gave her an opportunity to “right her wrongs” in the form of a contract, according to a copy reviewed by The Post. But the contract did not mention drinking at all.
Instead, it required “healthy weight loss of 1-2 lbs a week.” Gordon had to agree to weekly weigh-ins and six days a week of “intense cardio.” Failure to reach those goals, the contract said, “will result in a re-evaluation of my status as a scholarship student-athlete at the University of North Carolina and may lead to my dismissal from the gymnastics team and non-renewal of my athletic grant-in-aid.”
“You can’t tell a freshly 18-year-old girl that her entire scholarship and athletic career rests on her weight and not expect her to develop some sort of issue,” Gordon said. By her sophomore year, she said, “I was walking around campus as a zombie. I was so dissociated the whole time. I just had no nutrients in my body.”
Galvin, who retired in 2020 after 39 years at the helm of UNC gymnastics, now calls the contract a “mistake.” Smith left UNC in 2017 to become the head coach at Utah State, where allegations of abusive behavior followed. She is currently the head coach at Clemson. She didn’t respond to the Washington Post’s inquiries for the story.
The whole article is a tough read, but definitely an important look at the many ways the system is still failing to protect athletes.
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Sorry for ending with the sad thing, I’ll do better soon!