On Monday afternoon in Washington, DC, the story took place. For the first time in his 27 months in office, President Donald Trump held a private ceremony for a championship winner. Women's White House sports team.
The guests of honor? The Baylor Lady Bears, who won the women's basketball championship of the NCAA Division I 2019 earlier this month, with an 81-76 win over Notre Dame.
Trump, as he used to, presided over a litany of cringeworth moments in what should have been a fairly simple affair.
First, in the continuation of a tradition that began during the closing of the government with the Clemson soccer team, Baylor served a heterogeneous mix of Chick-fil-A sandwiches, French fries, Big Mac and pizza. "Lunch was good? "You can not do anything better than that," he told the players when they were huddled together in the Oval Office for the photo shoot.
Then, when head coach Kim Mulkey presented him with the usual Baylor shirt with "Trump" on the back, Trump pronounced the phrase: "I love short sleeves, such beautiful arms. Great definition. "
Finally, when he was presented with a national championship hat from Baylor, Trump joked about his hair being real: "Can I wear it? It will ruin my hair, but that's okay. It's mine."
But the most questionable moment did not come from Trump himself. Instead, it came from Baylor's head coach, Kim Mulkey, who began his comments to the president saying: "First of all, thank you for inviting us."
That may seem like a mundane greeting, but given the circumstances, it is nothing.
Again, Trump has never held a private ceremony for a women's sports team, although some women's teams attended a mbadive White House celebration for numerous male and female college teams in sports unrelated to catwalks, and some Olympians attended an event the last year. celebrating the athletes of the US Team who competed in Pyeongchang.
These ceremonies of formality that used to be a mere formality to honor championship athletes tend to provoke petty and narcissistic Trump reactions. Last year, Trump invited the Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl champions, a day before the ceremony, after it was reported that most players would not attend. Two years ago, he withdrew his invitation to NBA champion Golden State Warriors because his star base, Steph Curry, said publicly that he was not likely to accept the invitation.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, so the invitation is withdrawn!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
When it comes to women's sports teams, there has not been so much public drama, mainly because Trump's fear of rejection rules out the possibility.
In 2017, the White House did not extend an invitation to Southec Gamebads until September, five months after its victory. Even then, they were only invited as part of an event honoring multiple championship teams. The head coach, Dawn Staley, refused the invitation, in part, she insinuated, because she felt disrespected by the delay. The last two WNBA champions, the Minnesota Lynx in 2017 and the Seattle Storm in 2018, did not even receive the courtesy of an invitation, nor the women's basketball team of Notre Dame, which won the NCAA title in 2018.
the only The reason why Lady Bears received an invitation is because Mulkey telegraphed his enthusiasm for accepting the invitation shortly after the victory in the national championship.
"I've been every time for every president," Mulkey told The Associated Press a few weeks ago. "It's an honor to go to the White House, I want everyone to say they went to the White House, not many people can say that."
All of Mulkey's team accompanied her and the Baylor staff. And, although there is no doubt that they got some of the experience, the previous day, the team visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as the most beloved monuments of Washington, DC, it was clear that Mulkey's decision to put many of his players in an awkward position.
Kalani Brown, who was drafted seventh in the WNBA draft earlier this month by the Los Angeles Sparks, posted a photo on Instagram tagged as "Obama's White House." He also posted videos in which he laughed at the spread of fast food. "It's okay, Donnie," she said. "Cool."
Mulkey tried to paint his will to go to the White House as an apolitical decision. But, of course, it is anything less.
The policies and rhetoric that come out of Trump's White House are racist, badist and homophobic. Basketball, and in particular women's basketball, is a sport dominated by black women, with a prominent queer community. These are some of the groups most marginalized by the Trump administration. By choosing to accept Trump's invitation, Mulkey was sending a clear message that, in the face of that kind of disrespect, the right thing to do is to bite the tongue, shake hands and smile for a photo.
She was also pointing out that although the president had not respected so many women's basketball champions in the past, whenever he invited Baylor, everything is forgiven.
In context, this is not necessarily surprising. Mulkey had previously ruled out concerns about the badual badault at Baylor, encouraged former Baylor star Brittney Griner to remain silent about her baduality, and largely promoted a way of dressing and acting "like a lady". And Baylor is a particularly conservative Christian school in the heart of Texas, where Mulkey, and, by extension, his players, are likely to be strongly encouraged to defend stereotypically conservative values. Jumping on a visit to the White House certainly would not have gone well in Waco.
But that does not mean that Mulkey's hand was forced. She is a three-time national champion who has accumulated a lot of influence over the years, thanks to her dedication to Baylor and her success on the court. If he wanted to take his students on a trip to Washington, DC to teach them about politics, he could have done it without shaking Trump's hand. He could even have organized a day of service, like the Minnesota Lynx did in 2018.
"I think patriotism is subjective," said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve at the time. "Service is a form of patriotism. That's what patriotism looks like. "
But Mulkey and the Lady Bears did not use this championship as an opportunity to take a position. Instead, they ate hamburgers, and they summoned a smile.