What the Caitlin Clark Effect Just Did Shocked the WNBA

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In aftermath of hit on Caitlin Clark, ill-informed WNBA fans creating real danger to players

Someone is going to get hurt.

The increasingly widespread narratives that fellow WNBA players hate Caitlin Clark and are playing her dirty are not only false, refuted by the only people who actually know, they are reckless. They’re putting players who are seen to be doing Clark wrong, or not paying her the appropriate respect, in the crosshairs of fans who’ve grown louder and more irrational, and it’s only a matter of time before someone feels emboldened to cross the line.

Witness the incident Wednesday, when a “fan” was waiting for the Chicago Sky when they arrived at their hotel in Washington, D.C. He badgered Chennedy Carter, following her and repeatedly asking if she’d reached out to Clark since delivering the hip check heard ’round the world. Sky security, which has been elevated this season, stepped in and the man was led away.

“It was over as fast as it started,” Sky general manager Jeff Pagliocca told the Chicago Sun-Times.

This time. But what about the next time, when someone not satisfied the W is doing enough to “protect” Clark takes matters into their own hands?

Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) drives toward the basket against the Sky during a game at Grainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on June 1, 2024.

Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) drives toward the basket against the Sky during a game at Grainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on June 1, 2024.
“The absurd headlines recently has certainly created an unstable environment for our safety,” Sky forward Brianna Turner wrote on X on Wednesday night. “I’ve been called every racial slur imaginable lately and my teammates have had it even worse.”

This has gotten out of control, and it’s time for those thinking they’re supporting Clark to examine their actions and rhetoric.

“For these people that are waiting outside the bus for the Chicago Sky team. What the hell’s wrong (with you)? What have we become, a third-world soccer country? That when a soccer player gives up their own goal in the World Cup, you’re waiting in a bar to shoot him?” UConn coach Geno Auriemma asked during an appearance Thursday on the Dan Patrick Show.

“What the hell are we doing here?”

Clark has not asked for anyone to raise up pitchforks and torches on her behalf, mind you. She knows this is part of the game. If a 22-year-old can shrug it off and move on, it’s not too much to expect the adults who claim to be her fans to show a similar level of maturity.

“The most tired narrative is that the vets are against the rookies — this old-school versus new-school narrative — and the narrative that the rookies need to be perfect. I feel like Caitlin Clark has that the worst right now, but even I get that,” Cameron Brink, the No. 2 pick in the draft behind Clark, said in an interview with Uproxx.

“It’s freaking exhausting,” Brink added. “I feel like we learn how to tune it out, but still, it’s unrealistic, and it kind of just shows that people don’t know basketball.”

Brink’s last comment was referring to the unrealistic expectations on the high-profile rookies. What do you mean Clark hasn’t turned the Indiana Fever into the WNBA’s No. 1 team? Why doesn’t Clark have 15 logo 3s every game?

But Brink just as easily could have been talking about the ignorance about the league’s physicality.

Look, it’s great Clark has brought legions of new fans to the WNBA and that she and the other rookies are putting a spotlight on the league that it’s always deserved. But some of these newcomers are making declarations about the league, and its players, that are simply not rooted in facts.

The W is, was and always will be rough-and-tumble. Rookies, who didn’t face this level of competition in college and haven’t had time yet to hit the weight room, are going to get banged and bumped. When someone has range from pretty much everywhere on the court, as Clark does, she’s going to get guarded closely for all 94 feet.

“The delusional fan base that follows (Clark) disrespected the WNBA players by saying she’s going to go into that league and tear it apart,” Auriemma said.

No one, though, is immune from hard shots and tough fouls. Was Carter’s cheap shot on Clark inappropriate? Sure. So, too, a similar foul on Angel Reese by Jonquel Jones in an earlier game. And if you were watching the Las Vegas Aces and Dallas Wings game on Wednesday night, you saw A’ja Wilson get smacked so hard in the face on a drive to the basket it left her nose bloodied. On the opposite end of the court, Arike Ogunbowale and Alysha Clark were both slow to get up after getting tangled up at full speed and hitting the ground hard.

It’s not just Clark. It’s the league.

“I don’t think it’s anything personal. I think we’re just going out here, competing at a very high level,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday night, before the Liberty’s game against the Sky. “And if you watch the teams that (Clark’s) playing against, when they play against other people, they’re doing the same thing.

“So I don’t think it’s specific to her. It’s just the way the style of play is in the league.”

That race and homophobia are playing a role in these narratives – and don’t say they’re not – is equally troubling.

Clark is a white woman in a league that’s predominantly Black. More specifically, she’s a straight white woman in a league that’s predominantly Black and, according to a 2022 analysis by Interbasket, almost 29% of the players are openly LGBTQ. This notion that she needs to be safeguarded is not only about the style of play but who she’s playing and what they look like.

And before you howl in protest, consider why Carter’s foul on Clark immediately became of utmost national concern when other, equally egregious plays have not even merited a mention on sports talk shows, let alone lengthy treatises by Stephen A. Smith and Charles Barkley. Would Nancy Lieberman have ever suggested Angel Reese or another Black player punch an opponent, as she said Clark should have? Imagine the outcry if they would take Lieberman’s advice.

“I will acknowledge there’s a privilege for the younger white players of the league. That’s not always true, but there is a privilege that we have inherently, and the privilege of appearing feminine,” Brink told Uproxx.

“Some of my teammates are more masculine. Some of my teammates go by they/them pronouns. I want to bring more acceptance to that and not just have people support us because of the way that we look,” Brink said. “I know I can feed into that because I like to dress femininely, but that’s just me. I want everyone to be accepted – not just paid attention to because of how they look.”

There is a long and ugly history in this country of society deciding white women need “protection” from people of color and the harm that results from it. No one should be surprised if these toxic, ill-informed narratives about the WNBA lead to more of the same.