No, the Hate Angel Reese Keeps Getting Isn’t “Normal”

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Angel Reese appeared on billboards in New York City for her Reebok endorsement. Flau’jae Johnson signed a rap contract with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and an apparel deal with Puma. Mikaylah Williams recently inked a deal with Jordan Brand. And several other Louisiana State University women’s basketball team players as well — a squad mainly made of Black collegiate athletes — have excelled just as strongly in the outside world as they have on the court. Witnessing it all has ushered in a a new era of Black Girl Magic for myself and many other Black women I know.

It’s the same joy and insane pride I felt as a Black woman when Reese and her team won the NCAA tournament last year with their edges completely intact, when Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman and Black vice president in 2021, and when I screamed front row as Beyoncé became the first Black woman to headline Coachella back in 2018. Things are changing. Awareness is growing. In each of these iconic moments, I thought: people are celebrating us, and soon marginalized communities will no longer be marginalized.

But similarly to last year’s hard-earned win, LSU’s celebration has been short-lived during this year’s March Madness tournament. Instead of relishing in their success and additional fame, Reese and the rest of the team’s experience has been marked and stained with discrimination, misogyny, and racism.

“I’ve been through so much. I’ve seen so much. I’ve been attacked so many times. Death threats. I’ve been sexualized. I’ve been threatened,” Reese said tearfully in a post-game interview after their 94-87 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes on Monday night, which took LSU out of the 2024 NCAA tournament.

“I’ve been attacked so many times. Death threats.”

Reese was referring to the public’s relentless interest in attacking her every move. You might remember how she was ridiculed last year for throwing up John Cena’s infamous “you can’t see me” gesture to Hawkeyes star player Caitlin Clark while pointing to her own ring finger to indicate where the championship ring would land. More recently, The Los Angeles Times, which primarily covers UCLA sports, received backlash for an opinion piece that stated LSU is “seemingly hellbent on dividing women’s college basketball” and that Reese is a “taunter.”

But despite the media painting a picture of Reese as a villain who is undeserving of praise, the people who take the time to get to know her are continuing to back her. In the post-game interview, Johnson strongly defended her teammate: “Everybody can have their opinion on Angel Reese, but y’all don’t know her. I know the real Angel Reese, and the person I see every day is a strong person, is a caring, loving person. But the crown she wears is heavy.” Teammate Hailey Van Lith also came to her defense and said, “I think Angel is one of the toughest people I’ve been around. People speak hate into her life. I’ve never seen people wish bad things on someone as much as her, and it does not affect her. She comes to practice every day. She lives her life every day.”

While sisterhood is a beautiful necessity (and I’m happy to see Reese’s teammates stand up for her), the support needs to go more mainstream. In addition to blatant racism, it seems much of the public has failed to realize Reese is a 21-year-old woman. And the most intense bashing of someone so young has come from the likes of white, middle-aged men. It’s the David Portnoys of the world who can shamelessly rattle off “classless piece of shit,” or white sports commentators like Keith Olbermann who utter, “What a fucking idiot.”

History has taught Black athletes, especially women, to be strong and hold their head high amid adversity. “There are so many things, and I’ve stood strong every single time,” Reese said on Monday night. “I just try to stand strong for my teammates because I don’t want them to see me down and not be there for them.” The fact that Reese and other Black athletes feel they need to curb their emotions, trash-talking skills, and other elements of the game exemplifies the double standards placed on Black women athletes. As writer Sumiko Wilson recently put it: “When Black women use their voices, the lightheartedness tends to disappear and the professional consequences and impact to their reputations can be significant. So who is actually allowed to engage?”

Reese and many other Black women athletes are symbols of hope for me, Black women, and many other misrepresented communities. What she does on the court is a reflection of what can be achieved for those of us who are so often othered. And to continuously overlook her talent and humanity because of her skin color is a disservice to our hard, tireless battle toward equality for Black women athletes.

Although I am glad that women’s sports viewings have gone up significantly in the last decade — with more new fans understanding that women’s athleticism can be just as exciting as their men counterparts’ — I am growing very weary waiting for the majority to come around. Reese, like so many Black people in the eye of discrimination, is determined to turn the other cheek and take one for the team. “I’m going to always leave that mark and be who I am and stand on that,” she said. “Hopefully the little girls that look up to me, hopefully I give them some type of inspiration.”

Black women, like all other people, should have the freedom to show up how they choose, despite preconceived standards that have not been set by them. For Black people, our unwavering resilience is the byproduct of this constant adversity. Although I too take pride in this character trait, I wait with eager anticipation for the day where navigating the sports world doesn’t force us to show our resilience.

As Reese concluded for us all: “Hopefully it’s not this hard and all the things that come at you, but keep being who you are, keep waking up every day, keep being motivated, staying who you are, staying 10 toes down, don’t back down and just be confident.”

Natasha Marsh is a freelance writer who writes about fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Prior to freelancing, she held styling staff positions at The Wall Street Journal, Burberry, Cosmopolitan Magazine, British GQ, and Harpers Bazaar.

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