The right tried to rain on South Carolina's NCAA victory with transphobia. Dawn Staley won't let up

Tommy Tuberville; Dawn Staley Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
Tommy Tuberville; Dawn Staley Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images

As a second consecutive record year for women’s college basketball reached another landmark conclusion this weekend, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley displayed to hardcore fans and casual viewers alike why she is one of sports preeminent ambassadors — and it wasn't solely because of what her players accomplished on the court, but how she acted off of it. 

The day before her South Carolina team won the NCAA National Championship over Iowa, led by sensation Caitlin Clark, the 53-year-old Coach Staley received her normal set of game-related questions during the final press conferences in Cleveland. Then a little-known reporter named Dan Zaksheske from the Fox News’ sports website Outkick decided it was necessary to not “stick to sports” — something Outkick begs of athletes to do only when they agree with those athletes — and asked Staley her opinion on transgender athletes in women’s collegiate sport, using the deliberately offensive “biological males in women’s sport” framing before finally quieting down to allow Staley to respond

Taken aback at the bizarre timing of the intentionally inflammatory inquisition, the superstar coach gathered herself to remark on the highly polarizing issue.“Man, you got deep on me there,” she said to Zaksheske. Staley then delivered a response as impressive as any strategy she gives any of her players. 

“I’m under the opinion of: if you’re a woman, you should play. If you consider yourself a woman, and if you want to play sports or vice versa, you should be able to play,” she calmly replied. “Do you want me to go deeper?” 

Apparently a little disappointed and startled that he didn’t get a more explosive soundbite from Staley, Zaksheske pressed on., “Do you think transgender women should be able to participate?”

Staley cut his stumbling off. 

“That’s your question that you want me to ask, I give you that” she charged. “Yes, yes! So now the barnstorm of people are going to flood my timeline and be a distraction to me for one of the biggest days of our game and I’m okay with that.”

And with that full defense of transgender athletes, Staley of course received that backlash from the conservatives she predicted. 

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a former NCAA football coach, went to Outkick to pile on Staley.

She just followed the line. She didn’t want to disrupt people’s thoughts about her. She’s obviously an activist along with being a coach because there’s no earthly way she could believe, ‘OK, I want to coach girls against men.’ There’s no way she could believe that, but she said it for that reason. Just don’t understand the direction a lot of these people are going. Stand up.

She should be standing up for all those young girls, those young women she was coaching. She just won a national championship and talk about the good things. We’ll take anybody on, but it’s really not right for men to come over and say they want to play in women’s sports. It’s not right. And it’s unfair, and it’s unsafe.

Megyn Kelly and Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., also gave their unsolicited transphobic views. Mace called it "absolute lunacy.” Kelly, still basking in the honor of being replaced by Ronna McDaniel as the worst hire in NBC News history, labeled Staley and anyone who holds the same supportive views a "disgrace for abandoning our daughters." 

Former respected ESPN anchor turned right-wing sports darling Sage Steele fumed that Staley “didn’t have the courage to speak the truth” and that “Dawn knows damn well that she never be a Hofer (Hall of Famer) if she played against men.” Steele then further rambled that “It’s irresponsible and unfair for her and other retired female players in all sports to confidently say that they’re now ok with this” and tagged LGBTQ star couple Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe in her post.

Recent University of Kentucky swimmer turned staunch anti-transgender advocate Riley Gaines labeled Stanley “entirely incompetent or a sellout” on “Fox & Friends” after rage posting repeatedly Saturday and Sunday on Twitter about the coach’s words. She had no shame in saying Staley “would trade” any one of her players “for a mediocre boy with an identity crisis.” Gaines’ transphobia gained her a national platform in right-wing media after she finished technically tied for fifth place two years ago to Harvard’s transgender swimmer Lia Thomas at a college meet

And of course, sports conservatives’ insane outrage over anything they disagree with will always come loudest from Outkick’s failure founder Clay Travis. Basking in the joy of his reporter’s irrelevant, controversial question to Staley instead of the actual championship basketball at hand, Travis continued to show why he is a daily waste of space more than blank lines on looseleaf paper. He claimed that Staley was part of a “cult” of “women athletes cheering the erasure of women from athletics by men pretending to be women.” He of course highlighted the comments from Steele and Mace, and even retweeted a ridiculous transphobic response from a retired NBA player.

Both Gaines and Travis pestered Staley’s Twitter account by repeatedly tagging her into their anti-trans athlete vitriol, leading to Staley sensibly blocking them during an otherwise joyous weekend for her. And why should she waste any of her energy, during the most important time of a special season, on miserable clowns that she will never want to know? 

Zaksheske, Steele, Gaines, Travis and the rest of their conservative ilk can’t accept the fact that there are currently zero transgender basketball players in Division I women’s hoops and that Staley nor the three other coaches at this year's Women's Final Four have ever coached a transgender player. And though an exact figure on the number of collegiate transgender athletes is currently unknown, it has been estimated as of 2022 that of the 200,000 athletes in NCAA women’s sports, only 50 of them are trans-identifying according to transgender researcher and runner Joanna Harper. 

Yet that infinitesimal number of trans woman athletes hasn’t stopped heartless conservatives and transphobes from showing in the last several years how much they loathe the LGBTQ+ community, continuing their disingenuous labeling of "#SaveWomenSports" as full on trans hatred. 

Over two dozen states have either banned or proposed to ban transfer athletes from participating in women’s sports since 2020, not just at the college level but also in high schools. We have also witnessed that the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes, a college sports organization of roughly 241 small schools that is smaller than the NCAA, is more than okay with the anti-LGBTQ wave. They recently voted unanimously to ban transgender athletes from participating in women's sports starting next school year. 

It’s one of many current culture wars that Republicans, and those adjacent to them, have a major thirst for. And they will choose to force their intrusive ideology anywhere they see fit, even during a golden weekend for women’s basketball and women’s sports. 

But in calmly dealing with their divisive agenda, Staley, who is very proud of her Christian faith, exhibited the excellence of real Jesus-like love inside of her that has propelled her to both a legendary playing and coaching career. It’s the type of Christianity from Staley that the rabid right are incapable of, where one can love God and simultaneously fully embrace every person for who they are. 

Of course that wasn’t the sole moment of Staley excellence at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse building this past weekend. After that press conference, the proud Philadelphia-born and raised native sang and danced to one of that city’s iconic songs, Boyz II Men’s “Motown Philly,” in front of the crowd during her team’s final practice. The great, relaxed Black girl joy of that moment was the spirit required for her South Carolina players to perform in front of the landmark televised audience in women’s National Championship game history and clinch a revenge victory over Clark’s Iowa after losing to them in devastating fashion in the semifinals last year. A perfect 38-0 record to become only the 10th team in women’s college basketball history to finish a season undefeated is what Staley’s team achieved in Cleveland this past weekend. No amount of right-wing trolling over trans athletes should take away from that. 

24 million viewers watched the women’s national championship at one point, with 18.7 million on average tuning in to set a wonderful new record. Although Clark’s immeasurable popularity is the top reason for the enormous viewership, what Staley has done in transforming South Carolina into the premier powerhouse in the sport certainly played a pivotal role.