WASHINGTON (AP) — All the past drama and hurt feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or put aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.
The visit was once threatened after Jill Biden suggested inviting the team that lost Iowa. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens touted the players for their performance and how they helped advance women’s sports.
“People, we have witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It is important.”
The ceremony was interrupted 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 coach Kim Mulkey assured the crowd that Smith was fine.
LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might pass out. She was evaluated by the LSU medical staff and the White House and later was able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits and will undergo further evaluation when she returns to Baton Rouge,” LSU said in a statement.
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 more female athletes in college and high school. He said 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.
“Folks, we need to support women’s sports, not just during the championships, but throughout the year,” said President Biden.
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 the Hawkeyes were coming to the White House, too.
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 predominantly black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.
Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea, and the White House just invited the Tigers. Reese ended up saying she wouldn’t skip a visit to the White House. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented Biden and the first lady with team jerseys with the number “46.” Hugs were exchanged.
Jill Biden also praised the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”
“I see the absolute best of the best in this room,” she 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,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was enacted. “We’ve come a long way and we still have a lot of work to do.”
The president added that “the way women’s sport has emerged is simply incredible.” It’s really nice to see, because I have four granddaughters.”
After Smith was helped into a wheelchair, Mulkey told the crowd 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 uncomfortable at the moment.”
Several members of Congress and former and current Biden aides with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the event in the East Room, including White House Budget Director Shalanda Young. Young is in the midst of talks with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to avert a globally catastrophic US financial default if the US can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.
The president, wearing an LSU purple tie, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, was also in attendance.
Biden closed out Sports Friday by switching to blue tie and welcoming the UConn men’s championship team to a celebration of his own. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.
“Congratulations to the entire UConn nation,” he said.