Thirty-five years ago this month, President Ronald Reagan honored the Southern California women’s basketball team at a ceremony in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.
“There was a time when the only jumping that was done at an athletic contest by women was by the cheerleaders — and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Reagan told the 1984 NCAA champions. “But you are proving that women can make their mark as well in the field of athletics, out there on the floor of the arena.”
Though the Trojans didn’t technically visit the White House, their ceremony with Reagan was a historic moment — and the start of a longstanding tradition in women’s basketball.
According to USA TODAY Sports research, 31 of the next 32 NCAA women’s champions went on to be honored by the president, either individually or as part of a broader ceremony. At least 16 WNBA champions have received White House invitations since the founding of the league in 1997.
Those trends have changed with President Donald Trump in office.
While championship visits have become more sporadic across all sports under Trump, they’ve become particularly rare for women’s teams. When the Baylor women’s basketball team is honored at the White House on Monday, it will be the first female team — in any sport — to receive its own championship ceremony during Trump’s presidency.
“Why is that?” Dr. Deborah Antoine, the CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said in a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports.
“Female athletes, coaches and teams all deserve equal opportunity to play, compete and thrive. And when that all adds up to a national championship, they too should have equal opportunity to be recognized with one of our country’s highest honors.”
What I’m Hearing: The Baylor’s women’s basketball team is the first women’s team to get an independent invite to the Donald Trump White House.
USA TODAY Sports
The White House did not reply to an email seeking comment for this story.
Ellen Staurowsky, a professor of sports management at Drexel University, believes the entire idea of visiting the White House has changed under Trump. Multiple teams have not been invited or declined invitations, most recently the Virginia men’s basketball team. The Cavaliers announced Friday that they would forgo a visit, just as the president’s comments about a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville were back in the news.
Staurowsky said these once non-partisan celebrations have become inherently political. And for women’s teams, she said, that means taking into account some of Trump’s past comments about women and the sexual harassment allegations that have been levied against him.
“On one hand, it leaves us with the question: Is it all that surprising that this administration would not invite as many women?” Staurowsky said Saturday. “And then it also presents the dilemma of what women are to make when these kinds of invitations are extended.”
The lack of White House visits for female champions under Trump is a departure from nearly 30 years of precedent. According to presidential schedules, speech transcripts and photographs reviewed by USA TODAY Sports, each of the past five presidents — including three Republicans and two Democrats — generally honored women’s basketball champions as frequently as men.
Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, for example, typically held joint celebrations for the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball champions. Former president George W. Bush followed suit, while also regularly inviting WNBA champions to visit the White House for the first time.
Former president Barack Obama took it one step further — celebrating every college and professional women’s basketball champion individually during his eight-year term. He also held ceremonies for the U.S. women’s national soccer team after its World Cup win in 2015 and Sky Blue FC, which won the inaugural league title in Women’s Professional Soccer in 2009.
Trump, meanwhile, has hosted female athletes or women’s teams at the White House twice since taking office: as part of a celebration of NCAA champions in non-revenue sports in 2017, and at a ceremony honoring Olympians and Paralympians in 2018. But he has yet to even extend an invitation to a WNBA champion, to the chagrin of some of the league’s players and coaches.
“It’s probably because we’re a women’s sport and it maybe is not on our president’s radar,” Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve told The Star Tribune after her team was not invited last year.
In a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports, WNBA chief operating officer Christy Hedgpeth described the situation as a “missed opportunity” for the White House: “WNBA players are world-class athletes and multifaceted women whose accomplishments and interests extend far beyond basketball and serve as a source of inspiration to millions of people.”
Baylor declined to make women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey available for an interview ahead of Monday’s visit, and spokesperson Kyle Robarts declined to release any additional information about the decision to accept Trump’s invitation — including whether players were consulted.
“It’s not a political issue for me. It’s an honor to go to the White House,” Mulkey told The Associated Press this month. “I want everyone to say they went to the White House. Not many people can say that.”