Unpacking the Media Frenzy: Caitlin Clark, Racial Inequities, and the WNBA’s Double Standard.




(ThyBlackMan.com) If you have ever wondered where we are as a country regarding race, and why Black people complain about the inequities in news coverage, the over-policing of Black neighborhoods, the unfair treatment in the criminal justice system, and conversations about white privilege, look no further than the intensity of the coverage of a mere foul committed on Indiana Fever player Caitlin Clark.

The last few days, the lead stories on many news and sports talk shows around the country have revolved around the Chicago Sky’s Chennedy Carter’s shoving Clark during a game on Saturday.

It was a non-basketball play that was uncalled for and probably warranted a technical foul. A common foul was assessed. The refs missed it. It happens. The league upgraded it to a flagrant-1 violation a day later. And now the debate over it has gone viral.  Why can’t we move on?

Honestly? We can’t move on because in America, white women must always be protected. And now Clark, a white college ball superstar, must be “protected” — even before she has shown that she will be a superstar at this level — by the league, the media, and fans.

Clark’s Indiana Fever debut delivered the most-watched NBA game in 23 years with 2.11 million views on ESPN2 in their loss to the Connecticut Sun. Clark has signed an eight-year $28 million endorsement deal with Nike, which includes a signature shoe and is the biggest sponsorship deal in the history of women’s basketball.

Clark is being hailed as the savior of the WNBA. But currently, Clark’s Indiana Fever are 2-9 on the season.

The best player in the league is Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson who is the reigning WNBA Finals MVP, a two-time WNBA Champion in 2022 and 2023, and is trying to push her team to a third consecutive WNBA title this season.

We can’t move on because America wants to protect Clark from the competition —  a league of mostly Black-women — she’s playing against.

We can’t move on because the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board irresponsibly and unequivocally compared Carter’s foul to an assault. 

The paper went on to say of Clark that “if the WNBA chews her up and spits her out because it is too afraid of being called racist to protect her from racially tinged animosity, or indeed from fouls such as the one Carter committed, it will have done a huge disservice to its own game, now at a major inflection point, thanks in no small measure to, yes, Clark.”

So does the whole success of the WNBA now rest on Black women players being nice to and apparently not racist against Clark?

We can’t move on because sports talking heads like ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe stated on the national airwaves earlier this week that these majority-Black WNBA players need to “ride the Caitlin Clark wave” and not be “jealous” of her success. After all, she has brought way more eyes to the WNBA than ever before.

According to Sharpe, Clark must be protected because “people” don’t want to see Clark get fouled hard like that on television.  Sharpe went on to infer that those “people” may stop watching if this continues.

Clark is a rookie! It’s simple, established veteran players go after rookies. It’s not that deep.

Carter is known as a fiery, competitive player. Not much different than the Los Angeles Clippers’ Pat Beverly, or the Houston Rockets’ Dillon Brooks. Carter’s foul of Clark won’t be an example of excellent sportsmanship in a commercial, yet it also won’t go down in history as one of the more bush-league things we’ve seen in professional basketball.

We do remember the NBA Finals is set to tip off this week right? We do remember the former Los Angeles Clipper Pat Beverly shoving then Phoenix Sun Chris Paul in the back. Or Ron Artest aka Metta World Peace elbowing James Harden in the head in a 2012 NBA game on national television. Or the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Greene choking the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Rudy Gobert live on television?

No media frenzy came to save them. We talked about it for a day and moved on. And each of those instances was way more egregious than the foul on Clark.

Clark was an amazing college basketball player at the University of Iowa and was drafted by the Indiana Fever as the #1 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft. But she is a point guard who stands at 5’ 8” and weighs 154 pounds and will be consistently challenged in her first year by guards who are more physical, stronger, and athletic than her on a nightly basis. It’s part of every basketball player’s journey.

The question folks should be asking is why did it take a white superstar for viewers to care about the WNBA?

Were Candace Parker, A’ja Wilson, Brittany Griner, Nneka Ogwumike, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Aliya Boston, and others not good enough? Why must we ensure that “certain viewers” are happy with the player’s treatment of Clark? What happens if Clark is injured and out for the year? What happens if Clark gets pregnant and must take off a season to have a baby? Does the league go back down to abysmal viewership? Should everyone pack up and go back overseas? Is the party over?

How about we take the training wheels off Clark’s bike. If Michael Jordan endured the type of punishment that was dished out to him on his rise to being a star in the NBA, are you telling me that Clark needs protection one month into her professional career?

Let’s drop the jealousy talk. Whether it is true or not, it’s part of the game. In sports when your opponent is getting major media attention and you don’t think they are better than you, maybe you do want to go out there and shut them up. It doesn’t necessarily make you resentful or jealous, it simply makes you a competitor.

WNBA players don’t need to kiss the Caitlin Clark ring because of the attention she has garnered and the chartered planes she has delivered. Yes, the WNBA is fortunate to have a talent like Clark in the league. But they are also lucky to have several other new star players with large followings — Black women like the Chicago Sky’s Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso.

As Angel Reese said in a recent interview about why people are watching women’s basketball, “It’s not just because of one person. It’s because of me too, and I want y’all to realize that — a lot of us have done so much for this game.”

In perhaps an effort to walk back his previous comments, on Tuesday, Stephen A. Smith directly called out the reason for the double standard’s existence. It’s because. “Caitlin Clark is white — and because she’s white and because she’s considered box office and she’s a star who happens to be white,” he said.

Love him or hate him, Smith is right on this point: “If we weren’t talking about Caitlin Clark, but we were talking about this happening with a sister, guess what? We wouldn’t have been talking about it at all. It wouldn’t have been a story.”

Clark has not done anything wrong here in her short career in the WNBA. She has come to play basketball, handled the pressure, answered questions, and competed at a high level so far, winning WNBA Rookie of the Month in May.

But ultimately, the pearl-clutching over Clark’s treatment reveals the entrenched biases and inequities that still permeate how the media and some fans view and devalue Black women in the WNBA. For women’s basketball to truly thrive, these biases must be confronted head-on. The WNBA and those who cover and watch the league will need to grapple with why a single white player is seen as the key to the kingdom — and what that says about how we regard the Black women who have built the league and the game.

Written by John Celestand

Official website; https://twitter.com/Johncelestand