If you listen to sportscasters covering men’s professional and college basketball, you often hear words like “athleticism” and “physicality” used to complement star players. Or a team is praised for being “aggressive.”

But it’s a different story when it’s women, especially women of color, shooting the hoops. Coach Geno Auriemma had the unmitigated gall to criticize the South Carolina Gamecocks and their Coach Dawn Staley for too much physicality. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s not basketball,” Auriemma harped after his team, the University of Connecticut Huskies, lost to South Carolina 81-77 on Feb. 5.

The Gamecocks won the National College Athletic Association national women’s basketball championship last year, beating UConn. Power forward/center Aliyah Boston was named Player of the Year, and Staley won Coach of the Year. Both, along with most of the team, are Black. Auriemma is white.

Perhaps this rerun of last year’s defeat gave the UConn coach a case of the sore-loser blues, but that in itself does not explain his insulting remarks. What lies beneath the surface is the pervasive racism and misogyny surrounding both college and professional sports.

Maybe Auriemma privately wanted to call the opposing team the stereotypical term “unladylike.”

South Carolina Gamecocks Coach Dawn Staley speaks out on derogatory remarks by white male University of Connecticut coach.

Coach Staley pushed back, calling Auriemma out for his disrespectful attempt to discredit her team, which is undefeated this season. “We play in the SEC [Southeastern Conference]. That’s how we play. We’re not going to change it,” she said. (boundingintosports.com)

Not the first attack on Coach Staley

Last August Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the Duke University women’s volleyball team, complained she was the target of horrible racist slurs coming from fans at Brigham Young University. The Utah college is sponsored by the Mormon Church, which has a long history of embracing white supremacy. Nevertheless, Richardson complimented the school’s athletic director for what she took as a sincere apology for the racism she was subjected to.

What happened to Richardson prompted South Carolina Coach Staley to cancel her team’s games against BYU. She did not want her players to experience similar trauma.

But after BYU conducted an “investigation” and claimed the incidents never took place, sports media was full of allegations that Richardson’s version was a “fake story” or a “hoax.” The media criticized Coach Staley for her firm stance, but she refused to change her position. “Did the young lady [Richardson] come out and say that she apologized for hearing something wrong?” Staley asked. “Did she come out and say that yet? Okay, then that’s her story.”

This is the context in which we have to view Auriemma’s latest outburst.

The racism, sexism, ableism, anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry and exploitation of athletes for profits that permeates the sports world is embedded in the whole capitalist system.

Staley’s uncompromising stance should be applauded by athletes and other workers of all genders and gender identities/expressions. 

Sports — like health care, education, housing, culture, food and all the things that enable human beings to live and enjoy life — should be for people, not for profit.

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