Controversy On The Court: A Hand Gesture, Double Standards, & How Angel Reese Became An Advocate

Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark have been two of the most talked-about women’s basketball players this season and have ben highly trending since Sunday. But while Clark has been widely celebrated for her impressive scoring and performance on the court, Reese has been facing criticism for her behavior during the Division I Women’s NCAA Championship where LSU beat Iowa with an impressive score of 102 to 85.

Reese became the target of negative attention after an incident in which she was accused of “taunting” Clark with the same hand gesture Clark has been giving to her opponents all season and tournament long. With Clark recently using the gesture on both the South Carolina and Louisville women’s teams. Many critics have labeled Reese’s behavior as “classless” and disrespectful, with some questioning her sportsmanship. Again, it needs to be noted that Caitlin Clark has been engaging in similar conduct throughout the season, without facing the same level of scrutiny. Clark is known for her confidence and outspoken nature on the court, and she often celebrates after scoring or making a good play.

Clark’s use of the hand gesture, known as the “You Can’t See Me”, was popularized by WWE wrestler and actor John Cena. He would use the gesture as a taunt toward his opponents to communicate that he was the best and they weren’t on his level. Since Sunday’s game video clips featuring Cena explaining the origins of the “You Can’t See Me” have been widely circulating on social media. In the clips he states that the “You Can’t See Me” was inspired by his younger brother who saw the move being performed by rapper Tony Yayo in a music video. Cena, who is a rap enthusiast and once attempted to segue into the genre as an artist, went on to say that he was a big fan of Tony Yayo and loved the move, so he made a variation that would better translate to his audience when competing. Key takeaway is that the gesture was always a taunt and is not original to Cena or Clark.

So why the different treatment for Reese and Clark? Some argue that it’s because of their different backgrounds – Clark is a white player from Iowa, while Reese is a Black player from LSU. Race was quickly and distinctly made with many white fans and critics telling Reese that she should be a “humble winner” and that taunting Clark was “classless” and not necessary. White people telling Black people, especially Black women, how to act and what is acceptable behavior historically is an area of contention and plays into respectability politics. Something that Black people have being dealing with since slaves were forcibly brought to the United States.

Others suggest that it’s simply a matter of popularity, with Clark being the more high-profile player. Clark has been hailed as a “once-in-a-generation” talent while Reese has been labeled as “overrated” and “underperforming.” Reese and Clark are two very different players with contrasting roles on their respective teams. Clark is a shooting guard who is known for her prolific scoring and three-point shooting abilities. Reese is a power forward who is versatile in her ability to score, rebound, and defend.  Reese is also a nationwide leader in double doubles. Comparing the two players based solely on their scoring statistics is not a fair assessment of their overall abilities. And is not a quantifiable argument in trying to justify chastising Reese for serving the same gesture back to Clark.

Regardless of the reason, one thing is clear – the double standard is unfair. If we’re going to call out Reese for her behavior, we should hold Clark accountable as well if in fact taunting is the underlying issue. Another question that arises is why even try to police women athletes behavior in the first place? Taunting is something that takes place in some of the most popular sports played by men in America and is often celebrated and encouraged. Men are often given grace and understanding when emotions are high as the result of a win or a loss. Whereas women are often held to very archaic Stepford Wives like standards. And Black women athletes get even more vitriol when it comes to having a glimpse of competitive nature, and often get accused of having poor sportsmanship when even addressing their mental health needs. We certainly seen these narratives played out in the treatment towards Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Serena Williams, and most recently with Brittney Griner. Those are just a few, but unfortunately there are many more. High profile male athletes like LeBron James and Robert Griffin III have be highly vocal about the double standard ( on the racial and misogynistic components) and are offering their full support to Reese.

Amid this controversy First Lady Jill Biden recently made a misstep when she suggested that both teams – LSU and Iowa – be invited to the White House. This suggestion ignored the fact that only one team had won the game and historically only the winning team is invited to the White House. It also perpetuated the false equivalence between the two teams, which had very different experiences during and after the game. Many supporters of Angel Reese and LSU( who is a predominantly Black squad) were also quick to point out that the “participation trophy” sentiment that the First Lady was giving further feeds into the historically racist notion that Black women must subvert their emotions and accomplishments so that White women can feel better about themselves or situation. Something that is rarely if ever given to Black women, especially in the United States. Biden and her office quickly walked back the suggestion after receiving less than a day’s worth( and an overwhelming large number) of critical backlash on many social media platforms, including Twitter. Many also questioned Biden’s suggestion by citing that the Philadelphia Eagles were not offered an invitation to the White House after losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2023 Super Bowl and this situation should be no different.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 15: First Lady Jill Biden speaks onstage during Forbes x Know Your Value 50 Over 50 on December 15, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Angel Reese has proven herself to be a force to be reckoned with, especially amid the recent controversy involving her and Caitlin Clark. While many may have shied away from the spotlight if put in a similar situation, Reese bravely advocated for herself and her team. In recent interviews and press conferences, she stated, “I’m not going to let anyone tear down what we’ve worked so hard for, and I’m not going to let anyone chip away at my integrity or the integrity of my teammates.” Reese, 20, who received an award as the “Most Outstanding Player” in the Final Four went on to state, “All year I was critiqued about who I was. I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit in the box that you all want me to be in. I’m too hood, I’m too ghetto. You told me that all year. But when other people do it, y’all don’t say nothing. So, this is for the girls that look like me. For those that want to speak up for what they believe in.”

 Remember her name. Angel Reese. The LSU sophomore is quickly making her mark in basketball and is determined to be more than a one time tending topic. This is not the last time we’ll be talking about Reese or her teammates.  Her unwavering dedication to her team and her own principles is truly admirable, and it is no wonder that she has become such a beloved figure in the basketball community. Reese’s fearlessness and determination serve as an inspiration to all those who face adversity, both on and off the court.

DALLAS, TX – APRIL 02: Angel Reese #10 of the Louisiana State Tigers smiles from the bench as her team scores against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament National Championship at American Airlines Center on April 2, 2023 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)