For over twenty years, the United States has been sending a team to the Summer Games that is so dominant that losing isn’t even a remote possibility. And every four years, millions of Americans take this team’s excellence for granted more than the lightbulbs in their refrigerators.
This is the plight of Black women.
Team USA’s predominantly Black women’s basketball team has a 72-4 Olympic record since the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. And since the 1996 Atlanta Games, they’ve won gold in every Olympics with a perfect 48-0 record. That’s better than their male counterparts, who are 40-3 in Olympic competition since 1996, which also includes a bronze medal in 2004. It also trumps the women’s soccer team that’s only brought home four gold medals since 1996 compared to the six the women’s basketball team has, as the soccer team sports a 26-8-2 Olympic record during that period.
In a patriarchal society, we already know why the men’s basketball team gets more attention when the Olympics come around. But when you compare the women’s soccer team to the women’s basketball team, it’s always interesting that one team seems to get a bigger push than the other, even if their resume isn’t as good.
The answer to the “why” is a simple one. Of the 18 women that make up Team USA’s soccer roster, only two of them are Black. Of the 12 women on the basketball team, 9 of them are Black. The team is also coached by Dawn Staley, who is the first Black woman to ever coach Team USA’s women’s senior team.
America finding ways to not support successful Black female athletes — and Black women in general — isn’t anything new, as it’s been dominating the headlines. We’ve already seen how people were more upset with Gwen Berry, a two-time Olympian hammer-thrower, a few weeks ago for turning away from the American flag on the podium during the national anthem than they were with the terrorists that stormed the Capitol on January 6. Simone Biles – arguably the greatest gymnast of all time – got penalized for being better than her competition after doing the Yurchenko double pike in May, leading to the judges only giving her a score of 6.6.
“I feel like now we just have to get what we get because there’s no point in putting up a fight because they’re not going to reward it,” she told The New York Times. “So we just have to take it and be quiet.”
Sha’Carri Richardson’s final hopes for going to Tokyo were crushed on Tuesday when USA Track and Field left her off the 4x100 relay team, even though she would have been eligible after serving a 30-day suspension for weed that disqualified her from the 100m dash. And the International Swimming Federation (FINA) is reconsidering the ban they put on swimming caps for natural Black hair for the Tokyo games after all the criticism it received for the decision that was racist at best, and despicable at worst, for a move that specifically targeted Black women.
It’s no wonder why Black women are turning down opportunities that are beneath them. Hi, Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Since it’s become clear that the Olympics are still going to happen in a place that’s about to declare a state of emergency due to COVID-19, we might as well prepare to “unite as a country” and cheer on our athletes in sports we often forget about. But, while that’s happening, take notice of how one team won’t be getting anywhere close to the attention that it deserves. Because while our women’s basketball team doesn’t have a roster full of women with blonde hair and blue eyes, they’re still representing the red, white, and blue, and consistently bring home the only color that matters… gold.