People Watching WNBA Now Is Great and All, But It's Unfair that Caitlin Clark is White

AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Along with almost every other American I don't watch the WNBA. 

That's no particular knock on women's basketball. I don't even watch the NBA, as it is too star-driven and, at least when you are watching live, fit only for people with extreme Attention Deficit Disorder. There are so many non-basketball things going on that I can't keep straight what is going on. 

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Still, Caitlin Clark has created some interest in the sport, and I have to say that the little I know of her makes her look wholesome and nice. She likes babies, seems humble, and apparently is quite talented. It's almost like she is a person, not a sports star, and people seem to like that. 

She hasn't even derided America, beat anybody up, impregnated some groupie, or come out as trans. What's not to like?

Well, she is straight and White, and that seems unfair. People have fallen in love with her instead of others higher up on the intersectional ladder. 

But Clark, who will lead the Fever against the Sparks on Friday at Crypto.com Arena, also stands out for who she’s not. In a league in which approximately 70% of the players are Black, nearly a third identify as LGBTQ and most come from urban environments, Clark is white, straight and from Iowa.

And that sets her apart even more than her shooting skills.

“We would all be very naive if we didn’t say race and her sexuality played a role in her popularity,” said Hill, now a contributing writer at the Atlantic and host of the “Jemele Hill is Unbothered” podcast. “While so many people are happy for Caitlin’s success — including the players; this has had such an enormous impact on the game — there is a part of it that is a little problematic because of what it says about the worth and the marketability of the players who are already there.”

Nicole Melton, co-director of the Laboratory for Inclusion and Diversity in Sport at the University of Massachusetts, agrees.

“Cailtin fits a very comfortable narrative for a lot of people in the United States,” she said. “She comes from the heartland. She’s an amazing talent. She’s also a white, straight woman, right? There’s not a lot of things that would make people feel uncomfortable with that person being successful.”

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Being uncomfortable, you see, is now a required element for anybody to be admired in America, at least if you are the "right" sort of person who demands diversity and inclusion. 

This Los Angeles Times piece decrying Clark's offensive normality is a masterpiece. It begins by acknowledging that as a basketball player, she is something special. It acknowledges that she has brought interest and excitement to a sport that generally generates about as much interest as competitive turtle racing. And then, to use the Left's own word, "problematizes" the very qualities that make her an asset to the League. 

“You can be top-notch at what you are as a Black woman, but yet maybe that’s something that people don’t want to see. They don’t see it as marketable, so it doesn’t matter how hard I work. It doesn’t matter what we all do as Black women, we’re still going to be swept underneath the rug. That’s why it boils my blood when people say it’s not about race because it is.” Asked about Wilson’s comments, Clark chose to deflect the criticism and talk instead about the big picture. “There’s opportunities for every single player in women’s basketball,” she said. “The more opportunities we can give across the board, that’s what’s going to elevate women’s basketball.”

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Perhaps women's basketball fans don't embrace Black or Queer players who define themselves as especially deserving because of their race or sexual perversions because they are, well, unlikeable. If you are blathering on about how unfair life is people want to tune you out. 

Smile a bit more, play good ball, and get people to like you. It's not like there aren't plenty of Black players who are idolized because they are skilled and likable. Michael Jordan comes to mind. He rode his popularity into superstardom, at least as much because he made us feel good as because he was an exceptional player. 

“The boom of social media, there’s more accessibility and visibility. And so when you have a phenom like Caitlin Clark, who is kind of a product of that generation, it can certainly bring a lot of great attention,” said Seattle Storm forward Nneka Ogwumike, who is also president of the players’ association.

That, in turn, will mean higher pay and better working conditions for every WNBA player. And while the players welcome that, Hill said it hasn’t stopped many from wondering why talented, charismatic women such as Brittney Griner, Candace Parker and Maya Moore didn’t get the same media attention when they took the league by storm.

In other words, Caitlin Clark may be a savior for the sport, but she is a White savior, which makes everybody else a slave on the plantation or something. 

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Even I, as a non-basketball watcher, have seen enough of Clark to think, "She seems nice," which goes a long way in the world of celebrity. And that is what Clark brings to the table even more than her skills as a player, about which nobody would know other than their interest in Clark herself. 

The Caitlin Clark phenomenon is, in fact, less about her skill and more about her modesty in the face of great success. The fact that she can get all this attention and money thrown at her without inflating her ego makes her seem like an "everywoman," and most of us like that. 

She's not flashy, not conventionally beautiful, and not a snob looking down her nose at you. She's skilled and she is nice. She got there by being good and being a good person. 

I have a suggestion for those whingers who think Clark gets too much attention: quit being repulsive and we may wind up liking you too. 

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David Strom 10:00 AM | June 21, 2024
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