Create a free Diverse: Issues In Higher Education account to continue reading

All Ain’t Fair in Love and Basketball for Black Women

Angel Reece, Black woman, role model, and elite college athlete. We got you.

We are two Black women higher education scholars, who love women's basketball and love Black women and care deeply about their well-being. Chayla’s love for basketball began in 1991, at 14 years old as a high school freshman in Angel’s home state, Maryland. Chayla never played organized basketball before then, but she tried out for her high school team and was thrilled to make the junior varsity roster. Being on the team gave Chayla the instant feeling of accomplishment every Black girl feels when they aspire toward a goal and achieve that goal. In talking with LaWanda about her love for basketball, Chayla recalled, “I had to have the No. 32 jersey because that was Magic Johnson’s number.” Magic was Chayla’s all-time favorite basketball player. Chayla got the 32 jersey and was ready for the season to start, even though she did not know yet how she would pay for her basketball shoes or other team-related fees each player had to cover. Chayla was on the team, and decided she would figure the rest out later. In hindsight, Chayla believes her laser focus on Magic was due in some part to men being the prevailing image of basketball’s elite. During the years she played high school basketball, Chayla collected NBA and NCAA men's basketball trading cards. She watched and followed Georgetown Men’s Basketball and the Fab Five of Michigan State, just like the rest of the world during that time. The WNBA did not launch until 1997.

Dr. Chayla Haynes DavisonDr. Chayla Haynes DavisonLaWanda's love for basketball was also nourished early. She was a high school basketball cheerleader. She is originally from Tennessee, raised in a family of athletes -- men and women -- so she was always around sports, and grew up hearing stories about her mother’s sisters playing basketball in high school.  LaWanda started closely watching the Tennessee Lady Volunteer games, when Chamiqua Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings, and later Candace Parker and Andrea Carter were players. Once Dawn Staley became coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of South Carolina, LaWanda became a fan of the team -- she watches all of their games, attended two women’s final fours including their first championship win in 2017, and in March, attended the Southern Eastern Conference championship where the Lady Gamecocks won the championship game. “I was excited to see the LSU Lady Tigers, the 2023 NCAA women’s basketball champions, have a rematch with Iowa,” said LaWanda, who anticipated watching Angel Reese, Flau’jae, and all the Black women whose skills could advance them to the championship, while being unapologetically themselves. “Ain’t that the truth,” said Chayla in response.

We agree Angel and the LSU Lady Tigers are not only phenomenal on the court, but also off the court, rightfully experiencing the benefits of name, image, and likeness (NIL). And watching them is like seeing ourselves, our Black womanhood, on screen.

Unsurprisingly, March Madness and the 2024 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship brought us so much Black Girl Joy. We go hard for Angel and the LSU Tigers, but we also marveled at the beauty of Black expansiveness, the broad representation of Black womanhood we witnessed and celebrated, with other Black women across the country. In many ways, watching this year’s tournament fed our souls. JuJu Watkins from USC, Jordan Harrison and JJ Quinerly from West Virginia, Mallory Collier and Saniya Rivers from NC State, Black college women, who dominate on the court. Plus, Elle Duncan, Chiney Ogwumike, and Andray Carter, slaying as Black women do, flossing their basketball IQ in high-end style on ESPN for the culture. And let's not forget, the South Carolina Gamecocks, led by the GOAT, Dawn Staley, along with Kara Lawson from Duke and Niele Ivey from Notre Dame and all the Black women coaching their asses off from the sidelines. Black women doing what they love at higher education institutions with deep histories of racial injustice. Their determination to play through, to press on, to show up was not lost on us. Our research reveals that Black college women, like Angel, and countless unnamed others, encounter violence on and off campus every day and in ways that are socially acceptable (Haynes, Ward & Patton, 2023). Still, Black college women and ball players, like Angel, put their bodies on the line, raising the bar and bringing their institutions’ notoriety.

In what we now know to have been Angel’s last NCAA basketball game, the Lady Tigers fell to Caitlin Carter and the Iowa Hawkeye women’s basketball team. During the postgame press conference, Flau’jae said this about Angel’s leadership,

“People have their opinions, but y'all don’t know Angel Reece. I know Angel Reece. I know the real Angel Reece. The person I see every day is a strong person, a caring, loving person. But the crown she wears is heavy, bro. She is the type of teammate that’s gonna make you believe in yourself. The leap that I took from my freshman to sophomore year, Angel gave me that confidence to go be a dawg, playing next to a dawg every day. [T]o see how the media ridicules her..this my sister right here, and I'm so proud of her. [Y]'all like to call [her] a villain, [but] y’all don't know Angel, bro. I'm just happy that I get to play with her… her presence, her energy is different. She just makes me a better player …and that's what great players do.”

Angel’s black womanhood is read as villain-like, while Caitlin’s white womanhood maintains its innocence, despite initiating and repeatedly engaging in taunting in last year’s championship title run. The villain moniker assigned to Angel is reflective of anti-Black, gendered, and racist stereotypes of Black women as angry, sassy, and deserving of the violence they encounter (Patton & Haynes, 2018).

Dr. LaWanda WardDr. LaWanda WardFurther, Flau’jae’s post-game comments about Angel add much needed context about the impact of Black women’s labor. Angel’s leadership philosophy seems grounded in the belief that when she wins, we win. Just like Anna Julia Cooper (1988/1892), Black feminist, educator, and scholar-activist, who wrote in her book, A Voice from the South, “only the BLACK WOMAN can say when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.”

Still, neither of us was surprised by white supremacy’s violent response to Black women whose labor and talent brings notoriety, as Angel continued to show herself love and show love for other Black women. Angel’s presence on the court, her game play, her beat face, her baby hair and lashes all are an affront to white supremacy. We know this firsthand. Unfortunately, most Black women in higher education do too.

Haley, Angel’s teammate, said during the press conference in follow-up, “Angel is one of the toughest people I have been around. People speak hate into her life. I never seen people wish bad things on people as much as her. And it does not affect her.”

But we know it does. We catch a glimpse, as Flau’jae wipes Angel’s tear-stained face during the press conference.

Angel then reveals her truth,

“I don't really get to speak out on things, I try to ignore [it]. I have been attacked so many times…Death threats [and] I’ve been sexualized. I've been threatened, so many things and I'm still strong…every single time, I just try to stand strong for my teammates…I don't want them to see me down and not be there for them. [But] I'm still human. All this has happened since I won the national championship, and it sucks. [B]ut I still wouldn't change anything. I would still sit here, and say… I'm unapologetically me”.

In the aftermath of the press conference, public scrutiny over Angel continues, with critics insisting she cannot be a “villain and a victim too.”

The white supremacist-cis-hetero-patriarchal-capitalist society in which we live denies Black women their humanity. Thus, Angel is not permitted to possess or express a full range of emotions: happiness, pride, strength, vulnerability, and fear. Angel’s experience is representative of many unnamed Black women in (and outside of) higher education who are denied the opportunity to name their pain and who caused it.

Angel, with support, had the opportunity to name the violence being perpetrated against her. We are glad she declared for the WNBA, so collegiate fans who meant her harm, do not have her in that way any longer.

We wish Angel nothing but success in her bright future. And thank her, for caring for advancing Black women’s liberation, for inspiring us. Angel’s showmanship, and mere presence on the court, reminds Black women and girls, we are enough.

Angel, if you are listening, don’t let the haters diminish your love for yourself or basketball. Reject that foolishness like you always have. Stay doing you. Stay taking up space. Stay demanding the respect your humanity deserves.

As Monica said, in one of our favorite movies, Love and Basketball, “I been in love with [basketball] since I was 11 years old and the * just won’t go away.”  We will keep watching and rooting for you, always.

Dr. Chayla Haynes Davison is an associate professor of higher education administration at Texas A&M University. Her research focuses on critical and inclusive pedagogies, Black women in higher education and critical race theory- and intersectionality-informed research methodologies.

Dr. LaWanda Ward is an associate professor of higher education and associate director to the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University. She engages critical theories to examine and center Black women's experiences as students, staff, and faculty in post-secondary education.


Cooper, A. J. (1988). A Voice from the South. Oxford University Press. (Original work published 1892).

Haynes, C., Ward, L. W., & D. Patton, L. (2023). Truth-telling, Black women and the pedagogy of fake news in higher education. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 31(5), 899-914.

Patton, L. D., & Haynes, C. (2018). Hidden in plain sight: The Black women's blueprint for institutional transformation in higher education. Teachers College Record, 120(14), 1-18.

A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics
American sport has always served as a platform for resistance and has been measured and critiqued by how it responds in critical moments of racial and social crises.
Read More
A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics