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GOP Rep. Nancy Mace gets roasted for attacking her state’s NCAA champion Dawn Staley on transgender players

Congresswoman Nancy Mace NCAA champion basketball coach Dawn Staley
Congresswoman Nancy Mace NCAA champion basketball coach Dawn Staley

The University of South Carolina women’s basketball team celebrated its third national championship under the guidance of famed coach Dawn Staley on Sunday in a remarkable victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. However, the achievement was overshadowed in some circles by a contentious debate over transgender rights after a lawmaker from the state criticized Staley for her inclusive stance on participation in collegiate sports.

Republican South Carolina U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace took to X (formerly Twitter) ahead of the game, questioning Staley’s point of view on Saturday when a right-wing journalist asked the basketball coach whether she supported transgender women playing on sports teams. Mace is rumored to be a contender to be former President Donald Trump’s 2024 running mate.

“If you consider yourself a woman and you want to play sports or vice versa, you should be able to play,” Staley said, adding, “That’s my opinion.”

Staley made clear that she supported transgender athletes — women and men — playing sports on teams that align with their gender identity.

“Wonder how she’d feel if her team got beat with a man playing on the opposing team. Absolute lunacy. Men DO NOT belong in the locker room or on the court with our women and girls. I will stop at nothing to ensure men do not take away the achievements of women and girls.”

Mace’s transphobic remarks have led to widespread criticism from LGBTQ+ rights advocates and supporters of transgender inclusion.

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, responded to the controversy by commending Staley’s support for trans individuals and criticizing Mace’s comments.

“First, I’d like to commend Coach Dawn Staley for supporting trans people playing sports and being an ally to the community. Rep. Mace’s divisive and transphobic comments are the latest example of lawmakers attempting to score political points with the MAGA base by attacking the LGBTQ+ community instead of doing the work they were elected to Congress to do,” Robinson told The Advocate in a statement. “Rep. Mace has raced to the front of the ranks of anti-equality legislators who are trying to vilify the transgender community at the expense of their constituents. When it comes to celebrating the achievements of women and girls, we’ll follow the lead of the Hall of Fame South Carolina coach who just won her third NCAA Women’s Basketball championship.”

GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis also praised Staley, emphasizing the significance of her support for transgender athletes in a statement to The Advocate. “Coach Staley and her championship team electrified the sports world and elevated excellence on and off the court. Transgender athletes are few in number but have long been included in the NCAA’s inclusive policies to zero negative effect on any other player or the game itself. In fact, the women’s game has never been stronger or more popular, with incredible play and record-breaking viewership throughout a thrilling season and tournament,” Ellis said.

Turning to Mace’s comments and right-wing outrage over Staley’s support for trans athletes, Ellis took aim at critics.

“Coach Staley simply spoke the truth that trans women are women and should play if they want. Extremists in South Carolina could take a page from Coach Staley’s playbook to learn about the value of sports and about being a person of high integrity guided by faith, compassion and common sense. True champions empower and inspire others to their absolute best,” Ellis said. “Everyone wins when all are welcome.”

The congresswoman’s criticism contrasts sharply with the celebration surrounding Staley’s and her team’s monumental accomplishment. Not only did the Gamecocks secure the championship title, but they also contributed to what is expected to be a historic milestone in viewership.

According to Poynter, Sunday’s championship game between Iowa and South Carolina on ABC was anticipated to become the most-watched women’s college basketball game of all time, potentially attracting 20 million viewers. This interest surpassed the previous record set just days earlier during the semifinal match between Iowa and University of Connecticut, which drew an audience of 14.2 million on ESPN, marking it the most-watched basketball game across all categories on the network.

Mace’s press secretary did not respond to The Advocate’s request for comment.

Staley’s remarkable career further spotlights women’s college basketball’s growing appeal. Before her coaching tenure, Staley was celebrated as an elite basketball player, earning accolades such as a two-time Naismith College Player of the Year and a three-time Olympic gold medalist. As a coach, she has been named Naismith Coach of the Year four times, including this year.