Story and photos by Julia Beverly
Last month the LSU Tigers women’s basketball team solidly defeated Iowa 102-85 to take home their first NCAA championship title. When asked about the game the following day, Dr. Jill Biden commented, “I know we’ll have the champions come to the White House, we always do, so we hope LSU will come. But, you know, I’m going to tell Joe I think Iowa should come too, because they played such a good game.”
Coming from the average 71-year-old grandmother this might have passed as an innocent remark, but Dr. Biden is not the average grandmother. She’s the First Lady of the United States, and her words were widely criticized as patronizing and tone deaf. Think pieces abounded exploring accusations of implicit misogyny and veiled racism, wondering if Dr. Biden would have similarly extended “the ultimate participation trophy” to a male runner-up. LSU star Angel Reese tweeted that the invite was “A JOKE” and announced that the team would not be visiting the White House.
It seems that cooler heads were able to negotiate a happy resolution as there was no mention of any previous friction when the LSU team visited the White House on Friday. In a conciliatory gesture, Dr. Jill
Biden was first to speak and welcome the team to the White House, lauding their success as evidence of progress for women’s sports, a sentiment echoed by Vice President Kamala Harris. President Joe Biden
noted that ticket prices for the women’s game exceeded the men’s, joking, “You made it more expensive for people to come see you.” Biden also offered up the White House court to Reese in case she wanted to challenge her cousin, UConn champ Jordan Hawkins, who was slated to visit with his team later in the day.
Midway through President Biden’s speech, a scary moment occurred when sophomore forward Sa’Myah Smith, who was standing directly behind Reese, appeared to faint and fell to the ground. She was quickly
attended to by teammates and medical staff and eventually gave the crowd a “thumbs up” gesture before being escorted from the room in a wheelchair. “Everything’s okay,” Biden assured the crowd. “It’s a lot of standing. I apologize.” (Note to the White House: might we suggest an outdoor ceremony, a good DJ, and a pre-mixer with food and drinks for next time?)
While LSU’s Angel Reese has commandeered headlines, the team is full of young stars. Reese and fellow team captain Emily Ward presented President Biden and the First Lady with the traditional custom team
jerseys. Reese, who towered over the petite Dr. Biden, appeared to reciprocate the conciliatory gesture by reaching for the FLOTUS jersey and offering the First Lady a hug.
Another notable LSU standout is Flau’jae Johnson, who hails from Savannah, GA. Her father, the late rapper Camoflauge, had landed several hits with “Cut Friends” and “Layin’ My Stunt Down” and caught
the attention of Universal Records before he was murdered at age 21. Flau’jae has apparently inherited his rap skills, and is no doubt keeping a packed schedule by somehow juggling a rap career with both a
championship basketball team and academic pursuits. Hip-hop fans can expect to hear much more from Flau’jae in the future as she aims to carry on her father’s legacy. “When I hear his voice and songs I get
chills,” she told ESPN last month. “That’s how I know I’m on the right track and I’m destined to be carrying on the torch.”