This year's women's NCAA basketball championship, the most-watched in history, has provoked a heated debate about how race influences our perception of good sportsmanship and competitive rivalries.
Louisiana State star forward Angel Reese, who won the women's March Madness Most Outstanding Player award, waved her open hand in front of her face at the Iowa Hawkeyes' Caitlin Clark near the end of the Tigers' victory on April 2.
The gesture, meaning "you can't see me," had also been used by Clark toward a Louisville player in the Elite Eight. Bleacher Report said that in that same game, Clark said to an opponent: "You're down by 15 points. Shut up."
ESPN produced a segment hailing Clark, who is white, as the "Queen of Clapbacks," which highlighted moments when she taunted other players. But when Reese, who is Black, used the gesture, the reaction was very different.
Dave Portnoy, founder of the site Barstool Sports, tweeted that Reese was a "classless piece of (expletive)." Commentator Keith Olbermann called her a "(expletive) idiot," also on Twitter.
Part of what makes Twitter so revealing is that we get to see people's immediate first takes. We tweet before we've had a chance to pause and think about what might be fueling our reactions and whether there are any inconsistencies in our perception. Those initial moments after an event are when our subconscious plays a greater role in our response.
Olbermann later clarified his remark: "I apologize for being uninformed last night about the back story on this. I don't follow hoops, college or pro, men or women. I had no idea about Clark. Both were wrong."
Olbermann's admission in this situation is a rarity. Most people double down when they are challenged, especially when it comes to matters of racial bias.
The ones who doubled down on their criticism of Reese said the circumstances of the championship game were different. Mark Harris with OutKick argued that Clark "threw up her hand for half a second while walking to the bench," while "Reese did the motion multiple times two feet from Clark's face."
That kind of parsing, which ignores the more aggressive moments of Clark's previous behavior, comes across as a missed opportunity to reflect on how we instinctively judge human behavior.
Do we respond the same way to trash talk among professional male athletes as we do among women? Does a temper tantrum by John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors provoke the same feelings and coverage as Serena Williams' outbursts?
Reese called out a double standard in how she is perceived versus other players. In the press conference after the victory, she said: "All year, I was critiqued for who I was. I don't fit the narrative. I don't fit the box that y'all want me to be in. I'm too hood. I'm too ghetto. Y'all told me that all year. But when other people do it, and y'all don't say nothing."
It's undeniable that intense rivalries, leading to taunting and trash talk, have long been part of the spectacle of sports. We can debate the role and appropriateness of such behavior -- from youth players to elite professionals -- and disagree about when it crosses the line.
Like many parents of student athletes, I want my own child to show respect to his competitors and win with grace. It goes back to the fundamental Golden Rule of treating others how you want to be treated.
But before I pile criticism on a 20-year-old college student, I'm going to check myself to see if I react consistently when another player behaves the same way. Am I more forgiving if a player on the team I support is taunting or trashing our sports rivals? Am I more understanding if a player looks like me? Am I more outraged when it's a young Black woman taunting an outstanding white player who has been crowned "The Queen of Clapbacks"?
If so, that might say more about me than her.