Scooter Hobbs column: Governor discovers subversive pregame behavior

Published 9:20 am Friday, April 5, 2024

The LSU women’s basketball team was already somehow labeled as the “villains” in the NCAA Tournament.

Didn’t seem to bother them much.

They kind of earned it, at least beyond the state borders, with their fiery, often controversial coach Kim Mulkey, their own feisty personas, not to mention scattered outbreaks of documented taunting.

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No harm done. Somebody had to wear the black hat.

But on Monday, and beyond, these young women somehow were transformed into radical, fist-waving, flag-burning traitors.

That was terribly unfair, but probably just a misunderstanding.

Their NCAA Tournament exit, a 94-87 loss to Iowa in the Elite Eight, was played on April Fools’ Day.

But on social media, sorting out fact from fiction or innuendo, well, every day is like April Fools’ Day.

So some internet wiseacre took notice that the LSU women were not on the floor, at attention or otherwise, for the pregame national anthem. Iowa, as is apparently its custom, was out there.

5-4-3-2-1 … Boom! … social media meltdown.

Contrary to internet ranting, LSU wasn’t “protesting” anything. The Tigers were innocently following their usual pregame protocol — home, away or neutral, for time immemorial, — which is to retire to their dressing room 12 minutes before the tip-off.

Mulkey, frankly, was dumbfounded when asked about the whole thing.

Nobody noticed, apparently, that in the following Elite Eight game between UConn and Southern Cal, both teams were in their locker rooms for that anthem. National security was not threatened there.

For LSU, even with social media momentum, it might have died down quickly, probably soon forgotten.

But with friends like their own governor, the LSU women didn’t need any enemies.

Gov. Jeff Landry was leading that internet posse, techno-torches aflame, like Huey Long used to used to lead the Golden Band from Tigerland.

A simple and very innocent misunderstanding suddenly — by the time Landry got through dissecting it — became, in his words, an “incident.”

That, too, was news to Mulkey and the Tigers. The “incident” is pretty much standing operating procedure for the thousands of college sporting events I’ve covered through the years.

Landry could have admitted, of course, that he spoke too hastily, without fully understanding the context of the situation.

But no. In fact, he wasn’t done. It’s one of the oldest political ploys in the book. When in doubt, wave the flag. Better yet, wrap yourself in the Stars & Stripes.

Landry did some patriotic grandstanding for a segment on Fox News, in which the Louisiana-Lafayette graduate wore an LSU shirt. He said he’d push legislation demanding that Louisiana colleges force their student-athletes to be on hand for pregame national anthems. Violators would have their scholarships yanked.

“Everybody should respect the flag,” Landry said. “If you don’t like it, well, guess what? You don’t have to play the sport.”

Once again: Nobody disrespected anything. Yet  Landry would have you believe the FBI needs to resurrect its old Red Scare brigade and investigate the LSU women for treason.

Oh, but he wasn’t through. Your tax dollars never stop working. He fired off a letter to the heads of the state’s four college boards.

It said the LSU women “showed a lack of respect not only for the values of our country, but for the individuals who hold these values dear in our State and across the country.”

Well, of course. Voilà, but that’s the answer! There’s your missing piece to the puzzle that will fix higher education in our Banana Republic, uh, Bayou State.

Just threaten to take scholarships away from student-athletes who aren’t on hand for the national anthem.

Problem solved.

Note to LSU fans: He’s talking about the “Star Spangled Banner,” not “Calling Baton Rouge.”

Never mind the logistics.

Tiger Stadium will celebrate its 100th anniversary this football season. To my knowledge — I wasn’t there quite 100 years ago but almost — the LSU football players have always spent the national anthem in their dressing quarters. That’s the protocol throughout the Southeastern Conference.

It has worked well. There’s a rhythm to Tiger Stadium’s pregame that seems to work fairly well. It has never presented a problem for them or their opponents, including the Cadets from West Point who visited last season and were inside, content, for the anthem.

The governor never noticed this before?

Not sure how many LSU games he’s been to, but surely he’s attended some at his alma mater, and UL-Lafayette players also spend the anthem sequestered from the crowd.

Where was his outrage as a student there, before Fox’s cameras were running?

StiIl, I have one question: Would the governor’s proposed legislation stop with just the scholarship athletes?

At LSU, at least, almost every Louisiana resident is on some form of TOPS scholarship, a state program that has surely benefited the citizenry.

Would those civilian students be held to the same threats as their athletic brethren? Would being caught loitering in the concession stand line during the Bombs Bursting in Air be grounds for having a TOPS scholarship yanked?

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at