Dawn Staley is undefeated in more ways than one

OPINION: The South Carolina women’s basketball coach went 38-0, won a national championship and shut down a troll who asked her about trans women competing in sports. 

Head coach Dawn Staley of the South Carolina Gamecocks poses with the trophy after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes during the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on April 7, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Dawn Michelle Staley, first of her name.

Coach of the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team, Staley is a legend in her own right, and her bio on the South Carolina website reflects that.

Prior to her career as a coach, she made a name for herself playing basketball. At 5 feet 6 inches tall, Staley made her mark as a point guard beginning in high school, where she was named the USA Today National High School Player of the Year during her senior year of high school in 1988. She went on to play college basketball at the University of Virginia, where she was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 1989; made three trips to the NCAA Final Four — including the championship game in 1991, and she was named Most Outstanding Player after that game.

She was named National Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992; she was named a Kodak All-American three years straight (1990, 1991, 1992); she was ACC Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992, and she is the only player in ACC history — male or female — to have more than 2,000 points, 700 rebounds, 700 assists and 400 steals. She is also one of only three players at Virginia to have their jerseys retired. 

Dawn is not new to this; she’s true to this. 

Now, she is the first Black coach — male or female — in Division I college basketball history to go undefeated and win three national titles.

As a coach who started her career at Temple University in 2000 before joining South Carolina in 2008, she has made an indelible mark on women’s collegiate basketball.

Sunday was her third time leading South Carolina to the national championship — this time with the added distinction of her team going undefeated — 38-0 — for the entire season. 

Dawn Staley is that bitch, and we are not going to let you forget. 

Leading up to the game, we were rooting for Dawn. We wanted her to win. 


As a Black woman, I wanted her to win. I wanted her to win it for herself as much as I wanted her to win it for the rest of us Black women who have so much pressure put on us in everyday life; a win for one of us feels like a win for all of us most days. 

And because she is a Black woman who is minding her Black-ass business and simply trying to go about her job of coaching her team, at a Saturday press conference where the focus should have been on her upcoming championship game and the fact that her team was standing at a 37-0 record for the year in that moment, a troll reporter decided to throw a stick of dynamite into her lap and gleefully waited for it to explode in her face. 

Dan Zaksheske of Outkick — an outlet that according to its Twitter bio is “Your antidote to the mainstream sports media” — asked both Dawn Staley and Iowa coach Lisa Bluder about trans women competing in women’s sports. Bluder declined to answer the question. Staley did not. 

To be fair, Zaksheske’s question as put to Staley was a loaded gun waiting for someone to fire it incorrectly. 

“Coach, you just talked about what a massive weekend this is obviously for women’s basketball and women’s sports in general. One of the major issues facing women’s sports right now is the debate … discussion topic about the inclusion of transgender athletes — biological males — in women’s sports. I was wondering if you would tell me your position on that issue.” 

Let’s first be honest; this is not a “major issue” facing women’s sports right now. There were no transgender women participating in this tournament or the upcoming game. The population of transgender athletes participating in NCAA sports is so small that the number of people whining and crying about it is actually quite larger. Poor that. 

Staley handled the question with way more grace than it deserved, and she delivered an answer that pretty much shut Zaksheske and everyone else down. 

Taking a dramatic sip from her cup of water, Staley, who was hoarse from screaming and yelling after her team won its 37th game on Friday, looked at Zaksheske and took a stance in defense of trans women everywhere. 

She first asked, “Damn, you got deep on me, didn’t you?” 

“I’m under the opinion … if you are a woman, you should play,” Staley said, shrugging her shoulders. If you consider yourself a woman and you want to play sports or vice versa, you should be able to play.

“That’s my opinion,” she continued before asking Zaksheske “You want me to go deeper?”

“Do you think transgender women should be able to participate in college basketball?” the lame in the room added to his already loaded question. 

“That’s the question you really want to ask,” Staley said. “I’ll give you that. Yes. Yes.

“So now, the barnstorm of people are going to flood my timeline and be a distraction to me on one of the biggest days of … our game. And I’m OK with that,” she said with finality. 


The stick of dynamite exploded, but it exploded in the face of Dan Zaksheske, who I am sure was hoping Staley would fumble or otherwise be weak in her answer to him, bowing to the pressure of the hate she knew would follow her if she answered in the affirmative (as she did) and said transwomen should be treated like other women. 

The question was meant to be a GOTCHA! moment, and it failed miserably, as evidenced by Zakshreske now whining on the website that people are coming after him for asking the question in the first place. 

He was wrong to ask it, and he meant it to be disruptive, so he may as well own that. You can’t throw a rock and hide your hand, especially when the rock is a boulder you are using to try and smash a Black woman upside her head. 

The question served the purpose it was meant to; it distracted from a flawless season and an impending victory that would put Dawn Staley in the history books. According to the NCAA, only 10 teams in women’s D1 basketball have gone undefeated in the 41-year history of women’s college basketball. 

That’s 10 teams from five schools, and Dawn Staley added South Carolina to that number on Sunday. 

That’s what we should be talking about. 

Advocating for trans athletes is important, and I’m glad Dawn Staley stood 10-toes down and on business when answering what was a troll of a question. 

The moment should not have been a GOTCHA! moment. 

It should have been a moment to celebrate a woman who has made a huge mark on the sport of women’s basketball. 

It should have been a moment to celebrate a team that has worked hard to reach this level of success.

It should have been a moment to celebrate everything Dawn Staley has accomplished and a moment to think about what comes next for her. 

Dawn Staley is undefeated in more ways than one. 

Let’s celebrate that. 


Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

Never miss a beat: Get our daily stories straight to your inbox with theGrio’s newsletter.