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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA

Caitlin Clark is the rare type of athlete that needs little introduction. Showcasing a rare blend of limitless scoring range and passing ability, Clark amassed one of the most decorated careers of any college athlete in history. 

By the time Clark finished her career at Iowa, she had collected a plethora of awards, championships and records, including the scoring record for all Division I players regardless of gender, beating Pete Maravich’s record that had stood for over 50 years. 

Clark’s talent and dominance helped popularize women’s basketball amongst fans and media with contests starring her Hawkeyes breaking records for attendance and viewership. Noted as “The Caitlin Clark Effect,” Iowa Hawkeyes games became top billing wherever they traveled and on television, with the 2024 final featuring Clark’s Hawkeyes against undefeated South Carolina becoming the first time that a women’s final was more watched than the men’s championship game. 

With her amount of stardom and talent, Clark was one of — if not the most — hyped basketball prospect in recent memory, even amongst a stacked draft class with names like Angel Reese and Cameron Brink also bringing in fan interest. 

Once the Indiana Fever were given the No. 1 pick of the 2024 draft, its home games sold out immediately, and their road games shot up in price. In the short time that Clark has been in the league, attendance and viewership figures for the entire WNBA have increased.

On the court, Clark has continued to excel, becoming a bright spot for a rebuilding Fever franchise. So far, Clark has averaged 15 points, five rebounds and six assists in her first month of play and was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month in May. While Clark hasn’t performed quite as well as in her college years, nor has she managed to reverse the Fever’s fortunes immediately, she has played as well as advertised and should prove interesting to watch as her career progresses. 

However, most of the recent news surrounding Clark has less to do with her on-court play and with the surrounding media controversy and the underlying socio-political undertones of said coverage. 

The most notable incidents involve Caitlin taking hard fouls during games, mostly dished out by veteran players. Recent incidents involving Chennedy Carter and Reese have sparked conversations in both online circles and national media. 

Much of the discussion circles around the idea that the WNBA should protect Clark, as she is responsible for much of the attention the league has received. Commentators and fans alike have raised questions of jealousy and are curious as to why Clark is receiving the brunt of the physical play. 

Amid the controversy, it is hard to ignore some of the racial dynamics at play, both amongst the players and in the media. Clark’s image is built around her approachable and “All-American” persona. Clark grew up in Iowa and, through trial and tribulation, led herself and her hometown university to unprecedented heights, all the while remaining humble and dedicated throughout the process. 

That upbringing is a common trope in the American ethos, with Clark providing a 21st-century version of the “American Dream” that provides many Americans with a story to look up to. However, this narrative often fails to take into account the stories of people of color and LGBTQ+ people, both of which are widely represented in the WNBA, and intentionally or not, create an othering between Clark and her peers in the league.

This narrative spilled over when the United States national basketball team roster did not include Clark for the upcoming Paris Olympics. Even though four other white players were included on the roster, many believed that Clark’s absence was racially motivated

While Clark does have comparable stats to those who were included, her lack of experience in professional basketball and lack of rapport with the national team provided the actual justification. However, if her career continues strong, she will most certainly play on the 2028 national team that will compete in Los Angeles. 

Clark herself seems disinterested in pushing any narratives or agendas and wants to focus on developing her game and returning the Fever to basketball prominence. 

While the off-the-court circus is tiring, it is good to know that it will not deter Clark from realizing her potential.


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