Several weeks after it all ended, South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley summed up her thoughts on the Gamecocks’ White House invitation controversy and spoke out about the role of politics in sports.
Appearing on The Tavis Smiley Podcast, Staley spoke about a number of topics, including her childhood in the projects of North Philadelphia, the start of her coaching career and the politically charged circumstances surrounding her national championship team’s invite, or lack thereof, to the White House from President Donald Trump.
In the immediate aftermath of the team’s title in April, the Gamecocks did not receive an invitation to the White House, a first since 1983. After Staley criticized the non-invite and other coaches and South Carolina figures weighed in on the issue, an invitation was extended in early November for the team to join other NCAA championship teams from other sports. But at that point, Staley declined the invite as South Carolina had already begun its 2017-2018 season.
“In 35 years of national champions being invited to the White House, from college football, men’s and women’s basketball, we all got separate invitations. But that changed this year for some reason. I haven’t been told the reasoning behind that. But we got invited not when North Carolina got invited, which was shortly after they won the national championship. So we didn’t get invited then. We got invited during our season. The season had started, and we got invited with the other national champions of other sports like lacrosse and softball and all those other sports, and that was a little bit different than it’s normally been done, historically speaking,” Staley told Smiley.
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“So it’s super bad timing. But I think we deserved an individual invite.”
Smiley then asked Staley about the intersection of politics and sports, a topic that has drawn national attention recently with the NFL’s national anthem protests and Trump’s public clashes with some athletes.
“I think we shouldn’t get political. That’s not really our stand,” Staley said. “But I do think we need to keep our eyes open to make sure that there aren’t any injustices when it comes to athletes or coaches. I think when it comes to politics, there are bigger issues out there besides what we’re doing every day. I think we really need to concentrate on poverty. I think we really need to concentrate on homelessness. I think we really need to concentrate on making sure that there aren’t any injustices out there in the world, and sometimes those injustices happen in sports, and that’s when you have to address it. When it ventures into your area, then we need to be advocates.”
“I haven’t been an advocate for anything besides sports, and I do have an organization that gives new sneakers to homeless children and to children who are in need, and it’s called Innersole. I grew up in poverty. So I want to do my part. That is very near and dear to me. So I want to do my part to make sure that if I can help in my way, one or two or three individuals, and they can pass it on, that’s what I would like to do.”
Staley and USC return to the basketball court on Dec. 17 to face Savannah State.