U.S. 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.
After graduating from the historically black college and university (HBCU) in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and economics, Harris showed up Thursday in a suite at the Wells Fargo Arena to watch her Bisons get blown away by the Jayhawks, 68 -96, along with her husband and second lord, Doug Emhoff.
“I mean, here we are in Des Moines. And they’re struggling, they work hard, they’re so disciplined and it’s a joy to see 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 love our school.”
“And Howard University, I’m running for my first position as a freshman class representative and have always been a part of the Howard community. And I’m sure everyone who has a team understands what it means and the joy and the commitment 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 applause given to her, according to The Associated Press. Audience demographics may have played a role in the reaction to seeing the former California senator 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 received her bachelor’s degree in 1986 with TBS’s Allie LaForce from the Wells Fargo Arena
MIXED REACTION: Harris was booed and cheered when he was shown on the arena’s jumbotron
Most of the fans who attended Thursday’s game likely came from either Kansas or Iowa, two states that voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, which could explain why Harris was booed when he was shown on the arena’s big screen.
More than half of Iowa residents (53.1 percent) voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, compared to 44.9 percent of those voting for Joe Biden.
Fans from Kansas, another Republican state, may have also been behind the chorus of boos. Although Trump won the state with 56.18 percent of the vote in 2020, Biden’s vote share of 41.53 percent represented the highest for a Democratic presidential nominee since 2008 — one of Biden’s best increases in the statewide election.
On Thursday, Harris also stressed the importance of funding sports programs at HBCUs to shape the lives of “our current future leaders.”
“These sports programs have to be well funded because if you look at the coaches like the coaches of the two teams that are here they invest in these students as a whole person so yeah it’s about helping them to be the best they can be to fetch. talented on the field. But also off the field,” Harris told TBS’s Allie LaForce.
“They’re investing in these kids, they’re investing in their education, they’re thinking about their lives and all the things they’re taking with them to their time in school. And I admire these coaches because they really invest in our current future leaders.’
The vice president’s remarks come a day after commissioners from 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 in partnership 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 are strong as a collective,” said SIAC Commissioner Anthony Holloman. “We know when we play our conferences, compete, it’s a game, but on all other days we line up.”
With less government funding and fewer resources than Power Five schools, black schools have a harder time recruiting elite 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 stressed the importance of funding HBCU sports programs, such as Howard’s
Another HBCU team that has already played at this year’s March Madness tournament 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 made up of 12 HBCUs in Division II, has seen NIL give way to schools to help athletes monetize their creativity.
The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC), an HBCU league in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, partnered with NIL marketing company Athlyt and media company Urban Edge Network to create NIL deals for athletes.
“That helps us improve a lot of things now, our conference business,” said GCAC Commissioner Dr. Kiki Barnes, “and what we can do for our student-athletes.”
They are now finding those opportunities against the backdrop of unprecedented attention to HBCUs. Men’s basketball athletes from HBCU’s Texas Southern and Howard competed on the NCAA national podium this week, despite both schools losing to Fairleigh Dickinson and Kansas, respectively.
The Norfolk State women’s basketball team defeated Howard in the MEAC conference tournament to advance and face No. 1 South Carolina on Friday.
Deion Sanders, now Colorado’s football coach, helped HBCUs grow in popularity while at Jackson State University in Mississippi
Deion Sanders, now Colorado’s football coach, sparked a resurgence in HBCU’s popularity while he was at Jackson State University in Mississippi.
Dr. J. Kenyatta Cavil, a Texas Southern professor who focuses on HBCU athletics, said Sanders’ star power, coupled with the racial reckoning following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, resulted in more resources flowing to black schools.
“Some people have their popularity, but (Sanders’) openness to give his thoughts, a soundbite, that everyone was driven to see,” “What does this mean?” Cavil told the Associated Press. “And it really shot HBCU programs into this atmospheric rise.”
Played in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the SWAC conference leads all HBCU conferences in total NIL revenue and ranks 21st in athlete compensation, according to data collected by the NIL Technology – and marketing company Opendorse.
Before attending Howard’s game against Kansas, Harris spoke at Grand View University, a Lutheran university, where she held a roundtable discussion on reproductive rights.
The vice president then spoke to Howard players in their locker room after losing to Kansas and gave them an inspiring pep talk to recognize their efforts, talents and discipline.
“You put everything you had into the game and you know that’s what matters, right,” said Harris. You did that until the last moment. You didn’t stop until the last second, you didn’t stop. And that is so inspiring.’
“So you keep playing with chin up and shoulders back because you showed the world who Bison is. I mean, literally what you’ve done is in historical proportions. I used to be at Howard where we were just happy to have a game on let alone go to this place.”
“And I literally see Bison all over the world, and we talked about you, this team. […] You make us so proud. So I know you may not feel 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 finished her speech by inviting the Bisons for a tour of the White House whenever they feel like playing “hooky” from school. Players laughed at the Vice President’s joke soon after.