Dawn Staley does not let perceived injustices slide by, especially when they involve her national player of the year. The South Carolina women's basketball head coach took aim at ESPN and the ESPYs, the company's annual sports award event, on Sunday night for not inviting Aliyah Boston, a rising senior and dominant center in the NCAA.
Boston was named the unanimous National Player of the Year in 2022 and led the Gamecocks to the national championship. She's won the Lisa Leslie Center of the Year award every season and earned the 2022 Honda Cup Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year.
The 6-foot-5 star is one of four nominees in the category "Best College Athlete, Women's Sports" alongside Florida State soccer player Jaelin Howell, Oklahoma softball player Jocelyn Alo and Boston College lacrosse star Charlotte North.
But Boston was not invited to be in attendance at the show held at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, Staley said. And it comes after the 2021 award winner, Paige Bueckers, used her platform to call out the lack of media coverage for Black athletes and award-winners.
Staley calls out ESPN for omitting Boston
She called out the event holders and ESPN for not inviting the star. She also called out the NCAA women's basketball leadership for not saying anything about their game's best player being left out of the festivities.
Like really….who in the room from @espn @ESPYS decided it was a great idea not to invite @MarchMadnessWBB NPOY DPOY….not one person was able to see the uproar this would cause? There’s definitely something wrong with the make up of the room……the fight continue….#WBBSTANDUP
— dawnstaley (@dawnstaley) July 17, 2022
And I’m still waiting for the stakeholders of our @MarchMadnessWBB game to comment, post, TikTok….
— dawnstaley (@dawnstaley) July 17, 2022
"Like really....who in the room from ESPN [and] ESPYs decided it was a great idea not to invite [NCAA] NPOY, DPOY....not one person was able to see the uproar this would cause? There's definitely something wrong with the make up of the room......the fight continue....#WBBStandUP."
"And I'm still waiting for the stakeholders of our [NCAA women's basketball] game to comment, post, TikTok...."
Jade-Li English, who represents Boston at Klutch Sports, noted on Twitter the ESPYs were omitting Boston but then will turn around and have a Title IX aspect of the show. Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools and programs, is credited with increasing opportunities for girls and women in sports. It turned 50 last month.
— Jade-Li English (@IAMJADELI) July 17, 2022
"Imagine having an awards show w/category 'Best College Athlete, Women's Sports' & not inviting Aliyah Boston, who is nominated for the award, swept every College award she was nominated for this year, won a national championship, and most outstanding player of the tourney," English wrote.
"ON TOP OF THAT — having a Title IX moment built into the program," she write, tagging accounts for the ESPYS, ESPN and ESPNw. "Performative allyship at its best. Yes you read correctly. Aliyah Boston was not invited to the ESPYs."
Staley has pointed out issues in ESPN's coverage of women's basketball before, and specifically the differences between how she views her team, which is majority Black, has been treated against teams that are majority white. ESPN broadcasts have often blundered in their coverage of women's sports when they are on the channels at all.
Though it was a misspeak, ESPN's Holly Rowe awarded the Most Outstanding Player (MOP) award to "Aaliyah Edwards" and not "Aliyah Boston" in the moments after the NCAA championship. Edwards is a sophomore at UConn and the Huskies lost to Stanford in the semifinals.
A source involved with the show told Yahoo Sports the new, smaller venue and COVID-19 healthy restrictions impacted invites, which only went out to the athletes who will receive awards during the main broadcast. Several Sports Humanitarian Awards were also moved into the main show, forcing some awards to be handed out across other ESPN platforms, sources said. The men's and women's college athlete categories will be handed out during the scheduled ESPYs Preview Show on Tuesday night.
ESPN announced late on Monday the athletes who will be in attendance and they include Alo, who is also up for "Record-breaking Performance" and "Best Team" with Oklahoma.
The biggest issue in not inviting Boston is who was invited last year.
Bueckers won in person, called out media coverage
Connecticut guard Paige Bueckers won the 2021 ESPY for Best Women's College Athlete and not only was she in attendance, she gave a speech with the trophy in hand.
The superstar pointed out she's a white woman leading a Black-majority sport and going forward wanted Black players to receive more media coverage and attention they deserve.
"To all the incredible Black women in my life, on my teams. To Breonna Taylor and all the lives lost. To those names I have not yet learned but I hope to share — I stand behind you and I will continue to follow you and follow your lead and fight for you guys.”
— Paige Bueckers pic.twitter.com/uhGiMAYHSu
— ESPN (@espn) July 11, 2021
"In the WNBA, last season the postseason awards 80% of the winners were Black but they got half the amount of coverage as the white athletes," Bueckers said, citing a study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts. "So I think it's time for change. Sports media holds the key to storylines. Sports media and sponsors tell us who is valuable. And you have told the world that I matter today. And everyone who voted, thank you. But I think we should use this power together to also celebrate Black women."
The issue is not Bueckers vs. Boston, it's that those with power on the media and sponsorship side have continued to lift up Bueckers while ignoring other talented players, many of whom are Black. Bueckers had NIL deals from the start that were widely covered while it took a championship for Boston to start garnering some deals. Hers are not as large and not covered as widely.
An ESPYs snub only furthers this problem. Bueckers was given a platform to speak to millions of viewers, while Boston was not. And if it was the case that the entire category was left at home, that furthers the problem large media outlets have of ignoring women's sports and not giving them a platform and chance to grow.
Boston's lack of an invite is not the only controversy the ESPYs have this summer.
NWSL, Diamond DeShields take issue with ESPYs
Gotham FC also called on the event organizers to invite the NWSL nominees.
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) July 14, 2022
"We are once again asking ESPN to invite Caprice Dydasco and all of the NWSL nominees to the ESPYs," the team wrote on Twitters.
Dydasco is one of four for Best NWSL player. She joins Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch and Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe as well as OL Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock. OL Reign stars Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe are listed as attending as is Angel City FC's Madison Hammond. Rapinoe will present.
Phoenix Mercury guard Diamond DeShields is up for "Best Comeback Athlete." Earlier this year she shared for the first time that she had spinal tumor surgery in 2020, while playing with the Chicago Sky, and went through a scary and painful recovery period. She won a WNBA championship with the Sky in 2021.
DeShields called out Google, a WNBA "Changemaker" and partner, for not listing her as a nominee on its search page. The other three nominees — all men — were listed in her screenshot.
— Diamond DeShields (@diamonddoesit1) July 15, 2022
Her Mercury teammate, Skylar Diggins-Smith, is listed as attending. She is one of four nominees for best WNBA player alongside Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx), Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun) and Candace Parker (Chicago Sky).