WASHINGTON (AP) — All of the past drama and painful feelings surrounding the state of Louisiana’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or put aside on Friday when President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship basketball team of the Greeted women in the villa with a smile. Hugs and lavish praise everywhere.
The visit once seemed in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested inviting the losing team from Iowa as well. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens praised the players for their performance and the way they helped advance women’s sport.
“Guys, we’ve seen history,” the President said. “In this team we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It is important.”
The ceremony was suspended for about ten 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 crowd that Smith was fine.
LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated and nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is well and in good spirits and will undergo further evaluation upon her return to Baton Rouge,” LSU said in a statement.
Since Title IX was passed in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more women athletes in colleges and high schools. He said that most sports stories are still about men and that that needs to change.
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in government-funded educational programs and activities.
“Guys, we need to support women’s sports, not just during the championship, but throughout the year,” President Biden said.
After the Tigers defeated Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she said caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes come to the White House too.
LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she’d rather visit former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle instead. The LSU team is mostly black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, like most of her teammates.
Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese eventually said she wouldn’t skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented Biden and the first lady with team jerseys numbered “46.” Hugs were exchanged.
Jill Biden also praised the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion”.
“In this room I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”
“Each basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sport has come,” added the first lady, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We have made such great progress and there is still so much work ahead of us.”
The President added: “The way women’s sport has evolved is just amazing. It’s really beautiful to look at as I have four granddaughters.”
After Smith was placed in a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience that the player was fine.
“As you can see, we leave our mark wherever we go,” joked Mulkey. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of embarrassed at the moment.”
Some congressmen and former and current Biden aides with Louisiana roots dropped their activities to attend the East Room event, including White House Treasury Secretary Shalanda Young. Young is in the midst of negotiations with House Republicans to reach an agreement by the middle of next week to avert a catastrophic global US financial bankruptcy if the US can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.
The president, who wore an LSU lilac tie, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” So did Rep. Garret Graves, one of the GOP negotiators of the House of Representatives, was present.
Biden ended Sports Friday by donning a blue tie and welcoming the UConn men’s championship team to his own celebration. The huskies won fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.
“Congratulations to the entire UConn nation,” he said.