‘Garbage’: Patty Gasso takes aim at unfair criticisms of women’s basketball

‘Garbage’: Patty Gasso takes aim at unfair criticisms of women’s basketball

The OU softball coach hates some critiques as much as she loves the elite players and the spectacular games.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 5, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 5, 2024, 6:00am CDT

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NORMAN — Patty Gasso hustled home after work Monday to do what pretty much every other American sports fan was doing.

Watch the Iowa-LSU game.

The women’s basketball battle royale.

But when OU softball coach’s husband walked in after the game had tipped off, she got the feeling he didn’t seem all that excited about having women’s hoops on.

“What are you watching?” he asked.

“Get out of here!” she replied.

Truth be told, she essentially has the same sentiment for anyone trying to derail what’s happening right now with women’s basketball in specific and women’s sports in general.

That became clear during her weekly press availability earlier this week. While there was plenty of talk about this weekend’s series between OU and Texas — no one would be surprised if the Sooners and the Longhorns play for a national title later this season — Gasso did not hold back when I asked her about the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

Had she been watching? What were her impressions?

“There’s some elite, elite basketball players,” she said with a big smile. “It’s exciting to watch. It’s competitive. … I love watching elite play. Whether it’s bowling or golf or softball or women’s basketball, whatever it is, I love to watch elite athletes.”

But she knows not everyone is so excited. Some folks, be they on social media or in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, want to lean into old, tired stereotypes.

“What are we doing?” Gasso said of such comments. “Let us play. Let us play! I don’t care if you like us or not. The Evil Empire or the debutantes or all this other garbage, it’s just garbage. Just let us play. We’ve worked so hard to get here, regardless of whether it’s women’s basketball or something else, just let us play.”

Now, a quick rewind on a couple of things. 

First of all, debutants. An LA Times column that has since been amended referred to the members of LSU’s women’s basketball team as dirty debutantes. It was a characterization that smacked of racism and misogyny and even slut shaming. The writer has since apologized.

Second, Evil Empire. I can’t quite figure out who first used the term in reference to Gasso’s Sooners, but it must’ve been before they won their third consecutive national championship last season. That’s because Gasso used the phrase after the final game last June.

“To be sitting up here … is still kind of amazing because everybody’s out to get us,” Gasso said in the post-game press conference. “They want to bring down the Evil Empire, whatever it is.”

Back to what Gasso said earlier this week: at the heart of her impassioned words was a simple message.

Being good shouldn’t be bad.

Excellence has brought scrutiny for some women’s teams, and it’s not scrutiny about strategy or execution, the things for which men’s teams are critiqued. No, this analysis goes something like this: if you’re really good, don’t win too much, and if you win big, don’t celebrate too much or too loudly, and for crying out loud, don’t talk trash or wave goodbye or point at your ring finger where you’re about to get a new championship ring.

In other words, be seen and not heard.

It’s a ludicrous double standard. No one puts any such limits on anyone in men’s sports. But in women’s sports? Some people only want the players and the coaches to win in a certain way.

“That’s why I always tell our players to play and have fun and the outside … keep everything in our bubble and don’t let it affect us,” Gasso said. “We’re not doing anything wrong. What are we doing wrong? If we’re winning and people don’t like that then I’m sorry, but that’s my job, that’s what I get paid for. I’m not going to lose to make you happy. 

“We practice hard and we play hard. It’s discouraging to listen and watch people try to expose things when we’re just trying to bring fans in.”

OU softball is doing just that. The Sooners’ series this weekend at Texas, for example, has long been sold out. Programs that have never even sold tickets for games — entry has always been free — are selling tickets when the Sooners come to town.

And then, there are the TV numbers. Viewership of the Women’s College World Series has only gone up.

Same story with women’s basketball.

A TV audience of 12.3 million viewers watched Iowa beat LSU on Monday night, obliterating the previous high of 9.9 million for a women’s basketball broadcast. What’s more, that viewership surpassed every conference college football championship game this past season except the SEC.

And tickets for this weekend’s Women’s Final Four in Cleveland are more expensive than those for the Men’s Final Four, according to Logitix.

Men’s average price: $1,000.21.

Women’s average price: $2,323.

Gasso won’t be going, of course. She and her Sooners have business to attend to in Austin this weekend. But if she can watch some of the games on TV, she’ll tune in.

“I care about watching 35-foot bombs,” Gasso said, referring to Caitlin Clark’s long-range shots, “and it was unbelievable. I love good competition and elite athletes competing. There’s nothing better than that.”

She hopes fans see that, embrace that, enjoy that. She hopes they appreciate how the game is being elevated in women’s basketball and college softball.

But she knows not everyone will look and see what she does — and she has come to the point where she can let it roll off her back.

“I don’t have time for people that are not involved with us,” Gasso said. “You can have an opinion and say it as loud as you want, but we’re not really listening. 

“We’ve got thick skin. I know the truth. I look in my mirror … every day. I know what we’re doing is right. 

“And the players feel that way, too.”

In other words, get out of here.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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