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People can’t stop being weird about Caitlin Clark

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People can’t stop being weird about Caitlin Clark

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 07: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever walks down the court during the game against the Washington Mystics at Capital One Arena on June 07, 2024 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark, like 99.99 percent of Americans this summer, will not be part of the 2024 US women’s Olympic basketball team. Officially, the team will be announced on Sunday, but according to reports and Clark herself, she didn’t make the 12-woman roster. 

Unlike the rest of us watching, however, Clark possesses world-class shooting range, stunning passing vision, and a record-setting scoring ability. Those attributes have made her the No. 1 pick in this year’s WNBA draft and the most-watched women’s basketball player on the planet. Her games have set viewership and ticket sales records. 

With all the talent, hype, and attention, Clark staying home this summer is a shock to many. Millions of people have been told that Clark is arguably the best women’s player in the world and inarguably its biggest star, and now she won’t be a 2024 Olympian. Some critics are even saying this is the worst basketball decision the US has ever made. 

Clark herself congratulated the Olympic squad, said it’s the most difficult team to make, and that she hopes to be in Los Angeles in 2028. “I’m excited for the girls that are on the team,” Clark said this weekend after an Indiana Fever practice. “I was a kid that grew up watching the Olympics. It’ll be fun to watch them.”

Unlike roster selections in the past, Clark not making the cut has triggered an inflammatory response, with some calling into question the integrity of the women who made it instead of her and even the integrity of the United States. These extreme reactions stem from a dangerous and increasingly popular subtext about Caitlin Clark’s greatness, one that paints Clark as a transcendent star and her peers as terminally jealous individuals. The wild gist: Clark needs to be protected from her fellow players. 

It’s become clear that these Caitlin Clark fans aren’t all that interested in women’s basketball or even Clark herself but, rather, appear to be deeply invested in pulling the bright young basketball star into a culture war that she doesn’t seem all that interested in being a part of. 

Caitlin Clark’s Olympic omission is riling up toxic fans

Over the past couple of years, the rise of Caitlin Clark has been one of the biggest stories in sports. Clark’s game  — prolific scoring, deep shooting range, full-court passes — is thrilling to watch. Sports media has even created the term “the Caitlin Clark effect” to refer to the ticket sales and millions in TV viewership that Clark is responsible for. Everywhere Clark plays, whether it’s the University of Iowa, her alma mater, or the Indiana Fever, her current WNBA team, people want to see her game. 

For women’s basketball, a sport that’s been overlooked and overshadowed by its male counterpart, the attention paid to Clark has been an achievement. Her games draw the kind of viewership that the NBA does, and same goes for name recognition. I’d wager that more people would be able to name Caitlin Clark than last year’s NBA rookie of the year (Victor Wembanyama). 

While that attention has raised women’s basketball’s profile, it’s also brought to light some extremely weird, unsavory behavior from her fans and the media. 

Last year, in the 2023 National Championship, Angel Reese was the subject of a national conversation about her conduct after she taunted Clark in the final minutes — something Clark had done to her opponents throughout her tournament run. Instead of being seen as fun or confident (as Clark’s antics had been portrayed by media and basketball fans) Reese’s chaff was dubbed “classless” or, as Keith Olbermann, a former ESPN anchor tweeted, “a fucking idiot.” As the pile-on grew and Reese found herself in the middle of a national conversation about her character, Clark went to bat for her, reminding the fan base: “I get to play this game and have emotion and wear it on my sleeves, and so does everyone else … I don’t think Angel should be criticized at all.”

Clark is getting at a few things here. For one, there’s the double standard of how she was treated by fans versus how her Black peers are treated, but also the deeply related idea that she warrants some kind of added benevolence that other players don’t. As Clark has moved to the WNBA, this narrative that Clark needs protection has only grown. 

Clark’s fellow WNBA players are being portrayed in the media as petty and jealous of her accomplishments. Aliyah Boston, Clark’s teammate and reigning WNBA rookie of the year, has restricted her social media after receiving hate from fans online for underperforming. Earlier this month, Chicago Sky player Chennedy Carter fouled Clark with a shoulder check that the WNBA later upgraded to a more serious foul. Clark said that the foul was in the heat of the moment and that there’s no need for an apology. 

Still, the foul spurred an editorial from the Chicago Tribune and a WNBA inquiry from a sitting member of Congress. More alarming is that Carter and her Sky teammates said they were stalked and harassed by a man outside a team hotel in Washington, DC, and needed security to handle the situation. Obviously, not all of Clark’s fans are of the stalker variety, but it’s not exactly a surprise that someone would harass the Sky team as long as prominent people keep pushing the false narrative that Clark needs protection from jealous players — even if Clark herself has quashed that idea multiple times. 

Clark’s prominence and the conversation surrounding her have recently caught the attention of right-wing personalities, like former Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley. Haley tweeted about Clark’s Olympic omission, implying that the women on the US team weren’t the best US players and that Clark had been shortchanged: “I think the Olympic selection committee should be asked: Do we want the best team to represent our country or not?” 

The notion that the US isn’t as good as it used to be and the people representing the US — the team is predominantly Black and includes LGBTQ players — aren’t its best aligns with political messages that Haley used on the campaign trail to appeal to voters. It seems Haley is more interested in positioning Clark’s basketball career as a culture war and engaging her base than she is invested in Clark as a player. Six months ago, during a campaign stop that doubled as a Hawkeyes tailgate in Coralville, Iowa, Haley referred to Clark as Kaitlan Collins, who is actually a CNN anchor. 

Contrary to Haley’s opinion, Clark thinks the Olympic team is America’s best. “It’s the most competitive team in the world … I’m going to be rooting for them to win gold,” Clark said in a huddle with reporters on June 9.

The argument for Caitlin making the Olympic team

The obvious question surrounding Clark’s omission from the team is whether or not she was good enough to make it. But that doesn’t come with a clear answer, mainly because the criteria for making Team USA has long been subjective and sometimes relentlessly opaque. 

The selection committee has, in recent years, made some head-scratching decisions. 

Back in 2016, Candace Parker — a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the sport’s greatest players — was left off the team. Parker, who was 30 in 2016, was one the best players in the world and helped the US win gold in 2008 and 2012.  She has said that she thinks UConn’s Geno Auriemma, who was coaching the national team at the time, didn’t want her on the team. Breanna Stewart, a recent graduate who Auriemma had coached at UConn, was the only player under the age of 25 taken. 

Then in 2021 (the Olympics were delayed because of the pandemic), Nneka Ogwumike was left off. Ogwumike, a perennial all-star and MVP (like Parker), was also 30 at the time. Dawn Staley, the current coach at South Carolina and national coach at the time, cited uncertainty over a knee injury as the reason Ogwumike was not chosen

The lessons from these past two Olympic snubs is that it’s pretty clear that Team USA isn’t the 12 “best” players and that there’s precedence for taking a younger player over a proven player in their prime. Team USA will also err on the side of caution when it comes to injuries. 

Those arguments might have worked in Clark’s favor. She’s young (like Stewart was in 2016) and is turning in a good rookie season. Clark is averaging 16.8 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and 6.3 assists per game in the WNBA. She ranks fourth when it comes to the league’s leaders in assists per game and plays point guard, a position that the US isn’t terribly deep in — Angel Reese and Cameron Brink, Clark’s fellow rookies, are also having good seasons but play front-court positions where the US is loaded. Brink made the 3×3 Olympic basketball team. 

Chelsea Gray, a 2020 Olympic gold medalist and point guard for the Las Vegas Aces, is on the 2024 team. She hasn’t played in the WNBA this year after a foot injury kept her out of the WNBA finals last year. Gray and Clark play the same position. Further, Diana Taurasi — a five-time women’s basketball gold medalist — will also be going to Paris despite averaging fewer points, rebounds, and assists than Clark this season. 

The problem is, while you could make an argument that Gray and Taurasi should have been left off in place of Clark, there are also a couple of players — 2020 Olympic gold medalist Skylar Diggins Smith and WNBA scoring extraordinaire Arike Ogunbowale — who are having better seasons than Clark in this moment who also aren’t going. Clark’s game, while good, is marred by her 5.6 turnovers per game and lack of toughness on defense. 

Perhaps the most fascinating argument in all of this is that this entire kerfuffle is over a minuscule amount of minutes on the end of the bench. 

Whether it be Taurasi, Gray, or Clark, the backup point guard will likely be the last spot called to play. That theoretical lack of minutes was actually a factor, according to two anonymous USA Basketball sources who spoke to USA Today. They told the paper that the “concern over how Clark’s millions of fans would react to what would likely be limited playing time on a stacked roster was a factor in the decision making.”

If that reporting is to be believed, then there’s some cruel symmetry that Clark’s fans — specifically the toxic ones — may have been part of the decision process in keeping her off the roster. Leaving Clark off the team because of an anticipated backlash to meager minutes seems like one of those head-scratching, less-than-transparent reasons. 

Ultimately, the only person directly affected by Caitlin Clark’s Olympic omission is Clark, and she isn’t letting 2024’s disappointment affect her future. “It’s a dream. I think it’s just a little more motivation,” she told reporters this weekend. “You remember that. Hopefully, when four years comes around, I can be there.”

People can’t stop being weird about Caitlin Clark Rating: 4.5 Diposkan Oleh: Dr-tech

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