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WNBA star Caitlin Clark says people weaponizing her name is ‘disappointing’

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 2: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever looks on during the game against the New York Liberty during the 2024 Commissioner's Cup game on June 2, 2024 in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2024 NBAE (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark looks on during an Indiana Fever game against the New York Liberty.
Catalina Fragoso/NBAE/Getty Images

CNN — 

As she adjusts to life in the WNBA, rookie phenom Caitlin Clark is also having to navigate becoming a lightning rod for societal discourse.

Since bursting onto the WNBA scene after a record-breaking college career, Clark has found herself being used by controversial figures on social media to push their own agendas in American culture wars.

On Thursday, the Indiana Fever guard was asked by a reporter to clarify comments she’d made earlier in the day, when she said she “can’t control” people weaponizing her name in talking about racism and misogyny.

“It’s disappointing,” replied Clark ahead of the Indiana Fever’s home game against the Atlanta Dream.

“I think everybody in our world deserves the same amount of respect. The women in our league deserve the same amount of respect. So, people should not be using my name to push those agendas. It’s disappointing.

“It’s not acceptable … this is a league I grew up admiring and wanting to be a part of. Like some of the women of this league were my biggest idols and role models growing up and helped me want to achieve this moment right here I get to play in every single night,” added Clark.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - MAY 22: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever dribbles the ball during the first quarter against the Seattle Storm in the game at Climate Pledge Arena on May 22, 2024 in Seattle, Washington. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Clark dribbles the ball during the first quarter against the Seattle Storm.
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

While she has helped attract thousands more fans to the WNBA this season, discourse around the 22-year-old Clark often focuses on topics away from the court.

Her rivalry with fellow star Angel Reese, for example, has triggered discourse about race in the US.

Earlier this month, Reese said of the rivalry with Clark: “People are pulling up to games, we got celebrities coming to games, sold out arenas, just because of [the 2023 NCAA championship game].

“And just looking at that, I’ll take that role. I’ll take the bad guy role, and I’ll continue to take that on and be that for my teammates.”

Reese continued: “I’ll look back in 20 years and be like, ‘Yeah, the reason why we’re watching women’s basketball is not just because of one person. It’s because of me too,’ and I want y’all to realize that. “

‘It’s not something I can control’

Earlier on Thursday, Clark was asked whether people using her name in the culture wars was something that bothered her.

“It’s not something I can control,” Clark had initially told reporters. “So, I don’t put too much time into thinking about things like that.”

Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever takes the ball out against the New York Liberty at Barclays Center in New York City on June 02, 2024.

The response grew the ire of Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington, who wrote a social media post Thursday criticising Clark, adding that “silence is a luxury.”

“Dawg. How one can not be bothered by their name being used to justify racism, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia & the intersectionalities of them all is nuts,” Carrington said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Clark has had a mixed start to her WNBA career so far, showing flashes of her brilliance but struggling initially with the physicality of the professional game.

The Indiana Fever are set to play Chicago Sky in its next game on Sunday, where Clark will once again reignite her on-court rivalry with Reese.

In an interview with USA Today on Wednesday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league was “thrilled with the rivalries that are being built.’’

“She obviously captures a viewer we haven’t had before, which is great,’’ said Engelbert of Clark.

“We’re thrilled with Caitlin and the generational players that have come in,” added Engelbert, who referenced the play of rookies Reese and Cameron Brink in her USA Today interview.

“Look, apathy is the death of a brand,” continued Engelbert. “Nobody’s apathetic about the WNBA because we’ve brought in so many new fans into what we call the fan funnel this year.”