US Vice President Kamala Harris was booed on the third day of the NCAA’s March Madness tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, as she watched her alma mater, Howard University, fall to college basketball powerhouse Kansas.
Having graduated from the historically black college and university (HBCU) with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and economics in 1986, Harris showed up in a suite at the Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday to see her Bisons get blown out by the Jayhawks, 68-96, along with her husband and second gentleman, Doug Emhoff.
‘I mean, here we are in Des Moines. And they are a tough time, they work hard, they are so disciplined and it is a joy to watch them here in March Madness,’ Harris said of Howard’s men’s basketball team in the second half. ‘So many of us who are here, we love our school.’
‘And Howard University, I ran for my first office as freshman class representative and have always been part of the Howard community. And I’m sure that everyone who has a team understands what it means and the joy and the commitment that we have in the traditions and the loyalty to your team.’
When the Vice President was shown on the arena’s jumbotron, boos drowned out the round of applause given to her, according to The Associated Press. The crowd’s demographics may have played a factor in its reaction to seeing the former senator of California on the arena’s video board.
Vice President Kamala Harris and husband Douglas Emhoff watch during the second half of a first-round college basketball game between Howard – Harris’ alma mater – and Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Thursday in Des, Moines, Iowa
Harris spoke of her time at Howard, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in 1986, with TBS’ Allie LaForce from inside the Wells Fargo Arena
MIXED REACTION: Harris was booed and applauded when shown on the arena’s jumbotron
Most fans who attended Thursday’s game were likely either from Kansas or Iowa, two states that voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 President Elections, which could explain why Harris was booed when shown on the arena’s big screen
More than half of Iowa’s inhabitants (53.1 percent) voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential election, compared to 44.9 percent of votes for Joe Biden.
Fans hailing from Kansas, another Republican state, may have also been behind the chorus of boos. Although Trump won the state with 56.18 percent of votes in 2020, Biden’s 41.53 percent vote share represented the highest for a Democrat presidential nominee since 2008 – among Biden’s best statewide increases of the election.
On Thursday, Harris also emphasized on the importance of funding sports programs at HBCUs to shape up the lives of ‘our current future leaders’.
‘These sports programs need to be well resourced because when you look at the coaches like the coaches on the two teams that are here, they are investing in these students as a whole person, so yes it is about helping them be their best and most talented on the court. But, also off the court,’ Harris told TBS’ Allie LaForce.
‘They’re investing in these kids, they’re investing in their education, they think about their life and all of the things that they bring to their time in school. And I admire these coaches for really investing in our current future leaders.’
The Vice President’s comments come a day after commissioners of four major HBCU conferences — the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) — agreed to work more closely together in partnering with professional sports leagues, including the NBA and NFL, to increase the value of HBCUs and send more athletes to the pros.
‘We are doing it in collaboration knowing that we have strength as a collective,’ SIAC Commissioner Anthony Holloman said. ‘We know when we play our conferences, compete, it’s a game, but on all other days we are rooting for each other.’
With less government funding and fewer resources than Power Five schools, historically Black schools have a harder time recruiting top athletes. Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals, with little uniformity in how it is enforced across states, schools and regions, has widened that gap.
Harris also emphasized the importance of funding HBCU sports programs, such as Howard’s
Another HBCU team that’s already played at the March Madness tournament this year is the Texas Southern Tigers, who lost to the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights on Wednesday
Jacqie McWilliams, who is in her 10th year as commissioner of the CIAA, a league composed of 12 HBCUs in Division II, has seen NIL make way for schools to help athletes turn their creativity into money.
The Gulf Coast Athletic conference (GCAC), an HBCU league in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, partnered with the NIL marketing company Athlyt and the media company Urban Edge network to create NIL deals for athletes.
‘That’s helping us to now enhance a lot of things, our conference operations,’ said GCAC Commissioner Dr. Kiki Barnes, ‘and what we’re able to do for our student-athletes.’
They’re now finding those opportunities amid the backdrop of unprecedented attention for HBCUs. Men’s basketball athletes from HBCUs Texas Southern and Howard competed on the NCAA’s national stage this week despite both schools losing, respectively to Fairleigh Dickinson and Kansas.
Norfolk State’s women’s basketball team defeated Howard in the MEAC conference tournament to advance and face overall No. 1 South Carolina on Friday.
Deion Sanders, now Colorado’s football coach, helped HBCU’s grow in popularity when he was at Jackson State University in Mississippi
Deion Sanders, now Colorado’s football coach, helped fuel a resurgence of HBCU popularity when he was at Jackson State University in Mississippi.
Dr. J. Kenyatta Cavil, a professor at Texas Southern who focuses on HBCU athletics, said Sanders’ star power, coupled with the racial reckoning following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, allowed more resources to pour into Black schools.
‘Some people have their popularity, but (Sanders’) openness to provide his thoughts, a sound bite, which everybody was driven to see ”What does this mean?” Cavil told the Associated Press. ‘And it really shot HBCU programs into this atmospheric rise.’
The SWAC conference, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), leads all HBCU conferences in total NIL earnings, ranking 21st in athlete compensation, according to data compiled by the NIL technology and marketing company Opendorse.
Before attending Howard’s matchup against Kansas, Harris spoke at Grand View University, a Lutheran college, where she was holding a roundtable discussion on reproductive rights.
The Vice President then spoke with Howard players in their locker room following the loss against Kansas, providing them with an inspirational pep talk to acknowledge their efforts, talents and discipline.
‘You put everything you had into the game, and you know that’s what it’s about, right,’ Harris said. ‘Until the last minute, you guys did that. You didn’t stop until the last second, you did not stop. And that is so inspiring.’
‘So you keep playing with chin up and shoulders back because you showed the world who Bison are. I mean, literally what you have done is in historic proportion. I was at Howard back in the day, where we just happy that there was a game, much less getting to this place.’
”And I see Bison literally all over the world, and we’ve been talking about you, this team. […] You make us so proud. So In know you may not be feeling great right now, but know who you are. You are excellence. You are hard work. You are powerful, and you are winners. So please know that.’
Harris topped off her speech by inviting the Bisons to tour the White House whenever they feel like playing ‘hooky’ from school. Players laughed at the Vice President’s joke soon afterwards.