The Oklahoma softball team isn’t going to apologize for the energy they bring to the field.
On Tuesday, head coach Patty Gasso said that she tells her players to be “unapologetic” in the way they play the game, which includes celebrating walks.
“Because women have worked so hard to get here yet still get judged for those things,” Gasso said. “That’s the way we play, and that’s what people enjoy. Or you don’t. You either like it or you don’t, but we’re not going to apologize for these players knowing the game and celebrating the right way.”
The No. 1-ranked team in the country is riding an NCAA-record 51-game winning streak into the Women’s College World Series championship series beginning Wednesday against No. 3 Florida State, giving them plenty of reasons to celebrate.
The Sooners ran up against a tough test in the semifinals against star pitcher NiJaree Canady and Stanford, pulling out a win in extra innings on Monday while animatedly celebrating their victories, both big and small.
“We can’t satisfy anyone, and that’s not why we play this game,” said Oklahoma’s Alyssa Brito. “That’s not why we’re here doing what we’re doing is to satisfy anyone. So I think for me, I’m going to stay being who I am and stay true to who I am. And if that passion that I have offends anyone, it’s just kind of like, ‘OK, I’m not going to allow anyone to kind of change my game.'”
The players have noticed fans publicly criticizing their behavior, but center fielder Jayda Coleman said Tuesday that she’s stayed off social media during the tournament “because that would fire me up and maybe just want to do it even more.”
Coleman, tied for the team lead in home runs with 17, was named a First Team All-American this season. She noted that a double standard exists between celebrations in men’s and women’s sports — a debate that also came to the forefront after the women’s NCAA basketball championship game in April.
“I really don’t get it,” Coleman said. “I feel like we are continuously — and softball itself — are just breaking barriers. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and I feel like it’s just very disappointing to just see people just trying to tear us down in that type of way.
“Maybe not tearing us down, but just kind of making it into a negative light when you’re seeing the MLB players do the exact same thing or the NBA or NFL, throwing their helmets and having emotion. Like, why can’t we have emotion? We are in the same stakes as them. We are athletes just like them. Why can we not wear our emotions on their sleeves?”
Sooners shortstop Grace Lyons added on Tuesday that the team’s celebrations have little to do with their opponents.
“What we do is to bring passion to our own circle, and it’s never against anyone else,” she said. “So, I just want to say that that’s not how we play. People may take it that way, but it’s all for our own joy and passion, never to tear down.”
Oklahoma is looking to win its third straight NCAA softball championship this week, with Game 1 against Florida State kicking off at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.