It’s the controversy that won’t die.
Several weeks after South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley said she would not further discuss her team’s invitation, or lack thereof, to visit the White House as defending national champions, several of her fellow SEC coaches spoke for her.
Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White, who like Staley has visited the White House before, was asked about the invitation and her own personal experience in Washington, D.C., at SEC women’s basketball Media Day on Thursday.
“It was amazing, when you grow up and you’re reading about and you’re learning about the history not just of the White House but Washington, D.C. ... stepping into the White House and seeing the different aspects of the White House in person,” White said about her own visit, which came after she and the Purdue Boilermakers claimed the 1999 national championship.
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“It bothers me for them,” White said of the delay in inviting Staley and South Carolina on the part of the Trump administration. “Because I certainly think when you’re inviting every other champion, that it’s a slap in the face when you’re not invited, no doubt. It bothers me for them because they deserve that opportunity if it’s presented to everyone else. From someone who’s had that experience and understanding what that experience means, for Dawn and her team, it’s kind of a slap in the face.”
Ole Miss coach Matt Insell, who said he considers a Staley a friend and publicly congratulated her on Twitter after the Gamecocks won the 2017 national championship, said the White House’s lack of invitation “hurt me ... for our sport,” especially in light of Staley’s comments directly after the championship that she and her team would accept an invitation because “it’s what national champions do.”
At least one 2017 champion -- the NBA Golden State Warriors -- said they would not visit the White House because of disagreements with the president.
“She took a stand for women’s basketball there that may not have been popular stand at the time ... and for them not to get that invite immediately, it bothered me,” Insell said. “It hurt me. It was something I thought a lot about and I hated for her.”
Insell said he still hopes South Carolina receives an invitation, adding that the decision of whether to accept is up to Staley and her team, but that they deserve the invite.
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick also spoke on the controversy, saying she hopes that South Carolina gets the opportunity because it is a “special time.”
Staley, for her part, briefly addressed the issue, reiterating that “I haven’t heard anything, I’m not really listening to anything. I’m just tuned in to my team.”
When told that other coaches had spoken out on her behalf earlier in the day, Staley remarked that they were standing up “for what’s right.”
“The fact that they can speak out on it, it’s a great thing. It’s what America’s all about, being able to exercise the First Amendment right,” Staley said.
The apparent lack of an invitation comes even after former South Carolina governor and current U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley’s office told The State several weeks ago that an invitation would be extended to the team “later in the fall.”
The Gamecocks play just two games near Washington D.C. this season — at Maryland on Nov. 13, and at Temple in Philadelphia on Dec. 21.