Hailey Van Lith says negative LSU comments fueled by racism


ALBANY, N.Y. — LSU guard Hailey Van Lith defended her team Sunday following a Los Angeles Times column that described players as “dirty debutantes,” calling those who perceive them negatively as “being racist toward my teammates.”

Van Lith said the team saw the commentary before its Sweet 16 matchup against UCLA on Saturday. She wishes they had not read it because “that can crush your soul a little bit that someone would ever say that about us that doesn’t know us.”

“We do have a lot of Black women on this team, and unfortunately, that bias does exist still today, and a lot of the people that are making those comments are being racist towards my teammates,” Van Lith, who is white, said. “I’m in a unique situation where I see with myself, I’ll talk trash and I’ll get a different reaction than if Angel [Reese] talks trash. I have a duty to my teammates to have their back. Some of the words that were used in that article were very sad and upsetting.

“Calling us the dirty debutantes, that has nothing to do with sports. That’s not motivating. But in my opinion, I know for a fact that people see us differently because we do have a lot of Black women on our team who have an attitude and like to talk trash and people feel a way about it. At the end of the day, I’m rocking with them because they don’t let that change who they are. They stay true to themselves, and so I’ll have their back.”

During her postgame news conference following LSU’s 78-69 victory over UCLA, Tigers coach Kim Mulkey also ripped the column that portrayed her team’s matchup against the Bruins as a “reckoning” between good versus evil, calling it “sexist,” “awful” and “wrong.”

Van Lith, who grew up in Wenatchee, Washington, spent the first three years of her career at Louisville before transferring to LSU this past season. She said she saw the way people criticized the Tigers last year on their national championship run, particularly the discussion surrounding Reese after she pointed at her ring finger and made the John Cena “You can’t see me” hand gesture, waving her hand across her face toward Caitlin Clark.

Van Lith said she also has seen a double standard going back to her prep days.

“I’ve experienced it at Louisville. I’ve experienced it my whole life,” Van Lith said. “A lot of the times, I’m one of the only white people on the team and so I do see things from a different perspective. I think a lot of people who live in communities that everyone is like them, that’s when they tend to think, ‘Oh, racism doesn’t exist today.’ But I have seen it and I experienced it, and I watch it happen to my teammates. I watch it happen to my friends.

“So, when I go back home, which is a mostly white community, I do share those experiences. When I was in high school, they tried to cancel the Martin Luther King Jr. assembly because we didn’t have enough time for it, but every other holiday we had enough time for. We were a majority white high school, so no one had a problem with it. It’s my responsibility to say things when that happens because I’m in a unique position.”

Reese said the way the Times’ commentary described her team is “not the first time,” and she cannot worry about the way she and her team are perceived.

“It motivates us every time someone says something bad about us or crazy about us,” Reese said. “It motivates us. It makes us more hungry, it makes us want to go out there and win even more. So, I love that about our team. Being a part of LSU has just been great, and I just love it. People are going to believe and say what they want to say about you. You can’t change people’s perceptions of you, so I just let it be whatever it is. I mean, I don’t really care.”

The Los Angeles Times removed some of the language in the column, including its reference to “dirty debutantes,” later Saturday, saying in a statement that “it did not meet Times editorial standards.” The newspaper has not responded to ESPN’s request for comment.


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