In the disco anthem “After The Dance” — from back when I was known as the Disco Godfather* — super suave Marvin Gaye boldly sings to a woman he meets in the club “I’m walking out of here with you, baby.”
Sure, I've lamented for decades, it’s fine for Marvin to say that, but if I said it, she’d spray me with mace or call security. I felt similarly when I heard First Lady Jill Biden offer the Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team the equivalent of a lollipop that’s been dropped in the sand after they lost the NCAA championship game to LSU. Oh, you fragile, sweet, delicate flowers. First Lady Jill doesn’t want you to fall to pieces, to collapse on the fainting couch after losing, so she’s inviting you to the White House, too, since your tender sensibilities probably can’t take losing, her condescending suggestion implied.
If you watched the way those Tigers and Hawkeyes women drove to the basket, crashed the boards and threw elbows at the heads of their opponents - you know, the way basketball is supposed to be played - you know there is nothing tender about them or their sensibilities on a basketball court. Sure, it’s fine for Biden to say, in essence, that Iowa’s women’s team was too fragile to deal with defeat, or that the women's championship game was just a cute little diversion between typing classes and Home Ec, so let’s break tradition and invite the losers, too.
Fine for her, but If I’d said that, you'd accuse me of denigrating the hard work of LSU, insulting Iowa and belittling the entire concept of women's college athletics. Turns out, it wasn’t fine for her to say it, either.
See, it’s a time-honored tradition going back to 1869 that the championship teams in major sports are invited to the White House. But in what can charitably be described as a moment of over-exuberance the day after the most-watched women’s college basketball game in history, Biden said “I know we’ll have the champions come to the White House, we always do. So, we hope LSU will come. But, you know, I’m going to tell Joe I think Iowa should come, too, because they played such a good game.” I'm guessing Joe was somewhere thinking "Woman, leave me out of this."
Deigning to invite the losing team to share the stage with the winners will predictably elicit howls of protest at any time, but the howls were sure to be extra spic and vituperative when the teams were as dissimilar as LSU and Iowa. LSU’s team is predominantly Black and has a coach who roams the sidelines in outfits that are as loud as her team’s hip hop-pumping pregame locker room. Many of those outfits look as though they may have been pilfered from Sir Elton John’s dressing room.
The other team is Iowa.
If you believe some of the narrative leading up to the game, the Iowa players knit doilies for senior citizens after practice, spend their spare time listening to the New Christy Minstrels and, if they’re feeling especially decadent, will ask for extra sprinkles on their sundaes at the Dairy Queen. Others saw something more nefarious afoot — namely that Biden was seeking to dim the spotlight for the majority Black LSU team by mollifying the predominantly White Iowa team. The racial angle is too easy, which isn’t to say it’s wrong. Far more interesting, though, is to highlight the disrespect showed by Biden to both teams and women athletes everywhere. Women's basketball deserves what Aretha sung about decades ago - R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
Fortunately for all concerned, the uproar caused Dr. Jill to walk back her suggestion and dunk it into the waste bin of bad ideas. Before she did, though, she insulted LSU’s women by thinking they’d want to share the stage with a team they’d just vanquished. She disrespected the Iowa team by treating them like brittle rose petals left out on the snow who were going to — in the words of Frank Sinatra’s song “That’s Life” — “roll up in a big ball and die” because they lost the game.
Bull hockey, Madame First Lady!
If you think I'm full of beans, ask yourself this: is there any way on God's green earth that she would have contemplated inviting the runner-up - known in some quarters as the loser - of the men's championship game to share the White House stage with the winners? For those jump-shooting, elbow-swinging, tenacious athletes to have come as close as they did to winning it all, they are undoubtedly familiar with losing, and they know what it takes to win. They are probably in a gym right now working on their jump shots and crossover dribble because they know that receiving a participation trophy — even if it is presented at the White House — isn’t what it takes to win.
*Only by me.