LSU women’s basketball players aren’t evil. They’re important for the game

ALBANY, N.Y. — Allow me to give you a peek into tiny moments of my job covering the LSU women’s basketball team.

And let’s get this out of the way as it’s the only thing about the group of young women to be fully understood on the surface: they’re celebrities.

Angel Reese is on billboards in New York City. Flau’jae Johnson is a signed rapper to a major record label owned by one of the music industry’s top names in Jay-Z. Hailey Van Lith, just like Reese with Reebok and Johnson with Puma, has an apparel deal with major company in adidas.

Hailey Van Lith says negative LSU comments fueled by racism : r/NCAAW

They’re celebrities. They’re everywhere. On your TV, on your phones, Spotify and iTunes accounts, on your magazine stands. This isn’t your momma’s women’s basketball team.

Now, back to the peek into my job.

After every chance I get to talk with LSU’s players, any of them, we share a high-five. In most cases, they’ve just come off the court after taking another team’s best shot. In most cases, it’s after surviving those games with a win. In rarer instances, it’s after a loss.

Either way, these larger-than-life women are accessible and far more gracious with their time than I likely would be after playing an extremely physical game for 40 minutes at the highest level. As I thank them for their time and thoughtfulness — all of them Reese, Johnson, Aneesah Morrow, Van Lith, freshman Mikaylah Williams, who just announced an apparel deal with Michael Jordan’s brand Jumpman — each reciprocate my thanks without hesitation.

It’s often I may ask a question they think is stupid, but they never voice it — just rolling with it and still providing a helpful and insightful answer.

LSU’s women aren’t bothered. They’re grateful. Grateful to be at LSU and playing for Kim Mulkey, who’s helped guide them to a national title. They’re appreciative of their much-deserved status and fame from their success on the court.

Let’s go there: on the court. Some have confused Reese, Johnson, Van Lith or Morrow’s passion for the game they love as wrong or earning them the right to be vilified after every bounce of the ball.

It seems to the Los Angeles Times, who covers UCLA, has been an outlet that has taken exception to how LSU’s players plays the game, illustrated in an article that published Friday ahead of Saturday’s Sweet 16 matchup. LSU rallied late to win, 78-69, in Albany.

“Dirty debuntant”? A team that is “seemingly hellbent on dividing” women’s college basketball? Reese is a “taunter”?

The Los Angeles Times attempted to paint Saturday’s Sweet 16 matchup between LSU-UCLA as “Good versus evil. Right versus wrong. Inclusive versus divisive.”

I have a big problem with this.

The piece is littered with derogatory statements made about the women on LSU’s team and reeks of sexism. It reads intolerant and borderline prejudiced, a cheap and failed attempt in trying to lead the reader into believing Reese or Johnson or Van Lith or Morrow or any other player on Mulkey’s team are not “saintly” as The Times wrote about UCLA’s team.

To further let you know how little the writer knows about this LSU team is that he didn’t know Reese’s Tweet, after she waved to Middle Tennessee’s Anastasiia Boldyreva after she fouled out in the second round game last week “clickbait everything I do keep going viral” is a lyric from one of Johnson’s, her teammates’ songs.

Another peek into my job and how I approach it: I don’t write about anything or anyone I don’t know enough about to formulate my piece. Sure, it’s true that I don’t know the author of the gross commentary and while he was credentialed and in attendance at the Sweet 16 game between LSU and UCLA, I did not meet him.

This isn’t a “hit piece” on the writer personally, but I couldn’t let the disparaging remarks he made go unchallenged.

LSU doesn’t have any “dirty debutants” or anyone divisive. Far from it.

Because of Reese, Johnson, Williams, Van Lith, Morrow and the rest of the roster, LSU has groundbreaking and passionate athletes who are just as impactful and essential to the growth of women’s basketball than anyone else, if not in many cases more-so.

There was no “good versus evil” or “right versus wrong” or “inclusive versus divisive” on the court between LSU and UCLA on Saturday.

What I saw were megastars from both teams putting on another show for all those watching, in person and on TV. A contest that was good for the game.

The writer was right about one thing: The game was a reckoning. But not for the reasons The Times failed to argue.

It was a reckoning that LSU is here to stay.

Cory Diaz covers the LSU Tigers for The Daily Advertiser as part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow his Tigers coverage on Twitter: @ByCoryDiaz. Got questions regarding LSU athletics? Send them to Cory Diaz [email protected].

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