The WNBA Debate Shows How Everything Has Become Political

AP Photo/Cliff Jette

For some reason, WNBA player Caitlin Clark is still in the news. The controversy over the fact that she plays basketball just won’t seem to die.

When Clark first rose to popularity, it sparked a fiery debate, essentially over nothing. Discussions over the athlete focused largely on race and sexuality and her cardinal sin of being a straight white woman.

I came across a bizarre, but telling, op-ed written by Andrew Jerell Jones for The Guardian in which he claimed that Clark’s fans are some how “ruining things for the WNBA’s longtime fans.” His arguments are deeply flawed, but revealed something about the overall conflict over Clark: the fact that politics has even more deeply intruded into the wide world of sports.

In the piece, Jones begins by discussing Aliyah Boston, another successful WNBA player for the Indiana Fever, the team Clark recently joined. He details how Boston left social media because of “the disturbing, toxic backlash she and other WNBA players have received from Clark’s wild fans.”

The author acknowledges that Clark should not be blamed for the supposed vitriol coming from her fans as she “has not done anything to encourage the abuse of her fellow players.” He also highlights her accomplishments as a young athlete, saying she “has been a good thing for the league and women’s basketball as a whole.”

Yet, he then points to how Clark’s fans criticized the WNBA player for her “boisterous personality” during the 2023 NCAA title game while praising Clark’s “competitiveness” and treated Boston the in the same fashion.

And a subset of Clark’s fervent fans have become fully unbearable.

Anywhere one turns on social media, Clark fans are blaming the Fever’s early-season struggles – which had been expected – on everyone but her. Disparaging comments about Boston’s weight and game, the rest of Clark’s Fever teammates and calls for head coach Christie Sides to get fired are constant. Yet those same Clark fans don’t demand accountability from the point guard when it comes to her setting a WNBA debut-record 10 turnovers, her below average defensive play and her zest for perimeter shooting, something she had free rein to do at Iowa but needs to scale back until she improves her consistency at the WNBA level. Clark’s occasional volatile temper, which earned her a rare technical foul last Monday night, is glossed over by her rabid supporters who treat her as an infallible celebrity instead of a still-developing professional player.

The author also criticized former NBA legend Charles Barkley and current NBA player LeBron James for defending Clark for failing to “cite specifically who has been giving hate to Clark.”

However, this attempt to whitewash the vitriol directed at Clark falls flat given the high-profile individuals who have unreasonably attacked her. Last month, a USA Today sports columnist wrote an editorial whining about Clark getting a Nike deal, saying that it was “a lack of respect for the Black women of the WNBA.”

During an interview with the Los Angeles Times, podcaster and professional race baiter Jemele Hill claimed Clark’s “race and sexuality played a role in her popularity” and that her success is “a little problematic because of what it says about the worth and marketability of the players who are already there.”

Sunny Hostin, one of the shrieking harpies on “The View” slammed Clark for being a popular straight white woman.

Providing the perfect illustration of that was "The View" on Thursday. During the show, host Sonny Hostin explained why she feels like Clark is so popular. You see, it's not because of anything happening on the court. Rather, it's because of "white privilege" and the fact that Clark isn't gay:

“I do think that there is a thing called pretty privilege. There is a thing called White privilege. There is a thing called tall privilege, and we have to acknowledge that, and so part of it is about race, because if you think about the Brittney Griners of the world, why did she have to go to play in Russia? Because they wouldn’t pay her,” Hostin said, referring to the WNBA.

Interestingly enough, Whoopi Goldberg came to Clark’s defense, detailing her accomplishments and pointing out that those claiming Clark’s success is a result of her race and sexuality are essentially the same as those pretending successful Black men are only successful because of their race.

What this whole kerfuffle shows is that Americans appear to be increasingly viewing things through a political lens. Note how the author would not dare to mention the hateful invectives lodged against Clark while focusing on the insults hurled at Boston and other Black athletes. If he were not politicizing the matter, he would take issue with any athlete who were targeted for abuse regardless of their skin color or sexuality.

I have no doubt that many famous WNBA players have been abused online. However, as with most problems America is facing, it will be nearly impossible to address the issue if Americans only care when it affects someone who is like them. Unfortunately, it appears society is not quite ready to have that conversation.


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