canada africa partner reservation Caitlin Clark, like Larry Bird, is at the center of conversations about race and double standards in sports

Caitlin Clark, like Larry Bird, is at the center of conversations about race and double standards in sports


Indiana Fever's Caitlin Clark (22) goes to the basket against Atlanta Dream's Nia Coffey (12) and Aerial Powers (23) during the second half of a WNBA preseason basketball game on Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Indianapolis.
Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark (22) goes to the basket against Atlanta Dream’s Nia Coffey (12) and Aerial Powers (23) during the second half of a WNBA preseason basketball game on Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Indianapolis.Darron Cummings/AP

For much of the past two years, Caitlin Clark has been the center of the college basketball world.

Now, like NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird 45 years ago, Clark is involuntarily the center of discussions about race and her transition to professional basketball. While Clark has said nothing to fuel the Black and White narrative surrounding her meteoric rise, there is talk of a double standard.

“I think it’s a big thing. I think a lot of people would say it’s not about black and white, but for me it is,” said Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson when asked about the racing element in Clark’s popularity and before she recently signed two major endorsement deals. . “It’s really because as a black woman you can be at the top of what you are, but maybe that’s something that people don’t want to see.

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Darien Head Coach Laurie Larusso looks on during the CIAC Class L Boys Volleyball Championship against Trumbull on Thursday, June 9, 2022 at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, CT.
West guard Morgan Cheli, left, is blocked by East forward Sarah Strong during the first quarter of the McDonald's All American Girls' basketball game on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Houston.  (AP Photo/Kevin M. Cox)

“They don’t see it as marketable, so it doesn’t matter how hard I work. No matter what we do as black women, we still get swept under the rug. That’s why it boils. my blood when people say it’s not about race, because it is.”

To be clear, Clark is an experienced hardcourt savant from Iowa. Bird was an experienced hardcourt savant from the state of Indiana. And like Bird, Clark has captivated audiences and brought unprecedented attention to women’s basketball, which can score from any corner of the court.

Neither Bird nor Clark were the first great white male or female professional basketball players. Jerry West is the actual NBA logo, and before Clark, the long list of talented white WNBA players included Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.

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But sports can be elevated by heated rivalry, especially when race is involved.

Clark’s rise has been accompanied by an on-court bravado that has her watching TV as she led the Hawkeyes to back-to-back NCAA championship games. When Bird led the Sycamores to the title game in 1979, he faced off against Magic Johnson in one of the most watched games in NCAA Tournament history.

At Iowa, Clark’s on-court rival in the NCAA tournament was former LSU star Angel Reese. She then took on women’s juggernaut South Carolina and coach Dawn Staley. The matchups created the kind of moments made for social media that captivated audiences regardless of gender.

The matchups also sparked ongoing discussions about how race plays a factor in the treatment meted out to Clark, a white woman from “America’s Heartland,” compared to black counterparts like Reese.

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Clark has said that she and Reese are just pieces of a larger movement.

“I would say me and Angel have always been great competitors,” Clark said prior to Iowa’s Elite Eight matchup with Reese and LSU in March. “I think Angel would say the same thing, like it’s not just us in women’s basketball. That’s not the only competitive thing about our game, and that’s what makes it so good. To be really good, we need multiple people.”

Still, the race-based debate over perceived contempt for black players or favoritism toward Clark isn’t going away as the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft prepares for her first regular-season game on Tuesday night when Indiana plays Connecticut.

“I think new fans, or maybe returning fans of women’s basketball, have been attracted. Partly because of Clark. But also, you know, because of the LSU-Iowa rivalry,” said Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and clinical therapist. associate professor of history at Arizona State University.

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“There are basketball reasons,” Jackson said, “but there are also racial reasons why Clark has ended up in a completely different stratosphere than the players who came before her.”

Due to the perceived double standard, almost everything related to Clark is questioned:

– Clark’s first preseason game was streamed, but Reese’s was not.

— Clark gets an endorsement deal. Other established black stars, not so much.

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— If Reese talks nonsense, it is considered unsportsmanlike. When Clark does it, she’s competitive.

— Reese received some criticism for going to the Met Gala before a game, raise questions Would there have been the same kind of scrutiny if Clark had been on the red carpet?

Wilson, who signed with Gatorade last week and announced Saturday she will get a signature Nike shoe, and others have cited how companies are clamoring to do business with Clark as an example of the disparity in the way players are treated.

Clark’s deal with Nike will reportedly pay her $28 million over eight years — making it the richest sponsorship deal for a women’s basketball player, including a signature shoe. Before Wilson’s announcement Saturday, the only other active players in the WNBA with a signature shoe were Elena Delle Donne, Sabrina Ionescu and Stewart — all of whom are white.

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The perception extends beyond mere expressions of support.

While Clark’s preseason debut was available on the WNBA League Pass streaming app, a message appeared on the WNBA’s X platform incorrectly stated that all gamesincluding the debut of Reese and fellow rookie, former South Carolina standout Kamilla Cardoso for the Chicago Sky, would also be available.

So a fan available at the Sky’s game streamed it live. It was viewed more than 620,000 times.

In a apology post with explanation As for why the Sky game wasn’t also available, the WNBA said Clark’s game was available as part of a limited free preview of the streaming app.

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There have also been racial components to the way Clark is treated on social media compared to others, especially Reese.

Reese, who previously spoke out about the vitriol she received online, was recently attacked again after missing a preseason workout to attend the Met Gala. Clark has also been the target of online criticism, but apparently not to the extent that Reese was.

Online hate speech accounts for about 1 percent of all social media posts in the context of sports, according to Daniel Kilvington, course director of Media & Cultural Studies at Leeds Beckett University in Leeds, England.

“While this may sound quite low, you have to consider how much traffic there is online and how many posts are made every day,” says Kilvington, whose work with the Tackling Online Hate in Football research group has looked at this problem through the sport of football. “One percent is therefore 1% too high, as athletes are the primary targets of hate speech, harassment and death threats simply for playing a game they love.”

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But as Clark’s popularity grows, so will the debate. Jackson thinks it’s a good time to talk about it openly.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve read and heard her described as a generational talent,” the ASU professor said. “And whenever we bring up those issues, I immediately think: who are the other generational talents that we have? And I think too often the athletes who were black women could be put into that category, haven’t had that kind of streaming attention. And especially the kind of general audience saturation that Caitlin Clark has had.

“There are overlapping, intersecting reasons why that is the case. But I don’t think we should think about it if the goal here is to achieve fair treatment of the athletes in the sport.”

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AP sportswriter Mark Anderson and AP reporter Corey Williams contributed.


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