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Dawn Staley is an American sports legend. She has three gold medals as a part of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team, which she now coaches. She was the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2004 Games in Athens. She was voted by fans as one of the top 15 WNBA players in league history. She is one of only two athletes ever to play and coach for a top-ranked NCAA basketball team. She is in the Naismith Hall of Fame. And she is the coach of the newly crowned NCAA champion South Carolina Gamecocks.
So why hasn’t she yet been invited with her team to the White House?
“There is no question the amazing USC Women’s Basketball team has most certainly earned an invitation to the White House,” South Carolina Senator Tim Scott said in an emailed statement to Yahoo Sports on Friday. “We’ve made the White House aware that we were hopeful our championship teams would get an invitation to come to D.C.”
The Gamecocks are at this point the first NCAA women’s basketball champs not to be invited to the White House since 1983. There are certainly important things going on in the world, with three major hurricanes, a deadly shooting in Las Vegas, American troops risking their lives the world over, and a threatening standoff with North Korea. However, there have been major crises in the last 34 years, and none have kept a sitting president from extending an invite to the women’s champs.
“From someone who has had that experience and understanding what that experience means,” Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White told reporters this week at SEC Media Days, “and for Dawn and their team, it’s kind of a slap in the face.” Ole Miss coach Matt Insell added that the lack of an invite “hurt me … for our sport.”
Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who is now ambassador to the United Nations, told the State newspaper that an invitation was coming “later in the fall.” Yet earlier this week, Staley said she hadn’t heard anything. The season is here, and schedules are tight. South Carolina only makes two trips to the Beltway region this year, one in mid-November and one before Christmas.
The traditional White House visits for championship sports teams have been more controversial than usual under President Donald Trump. The Golden State Warriors were uninvited in September when the president tweeted, “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Coach Steve Kerr responded with this comment: “Not surprised. He was going to break up with us before we could break up with him.” Cleveland star LeBron James famously tweeted “U bum” about the president.
Yet while there was static from some of the Warriors, Staley said immediately after winning the title in April that the Gamecocks would go to the White House because “it’s what it stands for. It’s what national champions do.”
Even when asked about it this week, Staley was diplomatic: “What I am most looking forward to is getting an invitation to the NCAA tournament in 2018,” she told reporters. “That’s most important.”
The New England Patriots were feted at the White House earlier this year, with President Trump making extended laudatory comments and even letting team owner Robert Kraft take the presidential podium for a time. The Clemson football team also visited the White House, and although schedules didn’t work out for the North Carolina basketball team (who won the title a day after South Carolina), they too were invited.
So there’s no clear reason for this delay, or oversight. It’s perplexing and upsetting. President Trump has been aggravated with athletes who have protested during the national anthem, but that does not apply to the Gamecocks, and it certainly does not apply to Staley. There are few if any coaches in the nation who exemplify the red, white and blue more than she does. Staley carried the flag in front of the entire world.
Perhaps the traditional White House visits are coming to an end, at least under this president. But they should not come to an end here, with this team and especially this coach. “The country needs to see a women’s basketball team in the White House being recognized,” said Texas A&M coach Gary Blair this week. “That’s something that they’ve earned.”
It’s time for this to be resolved. Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks deserve a prompt invite, and the three-time gold-medalist deserves a phone call from Mr. Trump.