WASHINGTON (AP) — All of the past drama and painful feelings associated with Louisiana’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the champion women’s basketball team to the mansion with a smile. Hugs and lots of praise on all sides.
The visit once appeared to be in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited as well. But none of that was mentioned, as both Bidens praised the players for their performance and the way they helped advance of women’s sports.
“Friends, we witnessed history,” said the president. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride, and we saw purpose. It matters.”
The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in, and trainer Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.
LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseated and thought she might pass out. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later allowed to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits and she will undergo further evaluation once she returns to Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.
Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times as many female athletes in college and high school. She said that most sports stories are still about men and that needs to change.
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational programs and activities.
“Friends, we need to support women’s sports, not just during the championship but throughout the year,” President Biden said.
After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game attended by the first lady, she caused a stir by suggesting that the Hawkeyes go to the White House as well.
LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would rather visit former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. LSU’s team is largely black, while Iowa’s best player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.
Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese finally said that she would not skip the visit to the White House. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.
Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players demonstrated “what it means to be a champion.”
“In this room, I see the best of the best,” he said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic”.
“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” added the first lady, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We have made a lot of progress and we still have a lot more work to do.”
The president added that “the way in which women’s sport has evolved is simply incredible. It is very nice to see him, since I have four granddaughters”.
After Smith was helped into a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience that the player was fine.
“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s a little, right now, embarrassed.”
Some past and present members of Congress and Biden aides with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the midst of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to avoid what would be a globally calamitous US financial default if the US can no longer borrow the money. you need to pay your bills.
The president, who wore an LSU purple tie, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Also in attendance was Rep. Garrett Graves, one of the House Republican negotiators.
Biden closed out sports Friday by changing into a blue tie and welcoming the UConn men’s championship team for his own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.
“Congratulations to the entire nation of UConn,” he said.
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