The Real Reason Why Caitlin Clark Is So Controversial

From hoops experts to folks unable to tell a basketball from a pumpkin, pretty much everyone is paying attention to WNBA sensation Caitlin Clark, who has even been compared to NBA great Michael Jordan. Her collegiate stats support that sentiment, as the all-time point-getter in NCAA women's basketball also eclipsed the collegiate career output of the top male NCAA scorer, NBA legend "Pistol" Pete Maravich.

But it wasn't until Clark inked a four-year deal with the Indiana Fever worth $338,056 – which is lucrative by WNBA standards, yet utter chump change compared to what top NBA prospects receive — that viewers with only a passing interest in women's pro basketball took notice. While devout Clark fans voiced outrage over gender pay disparity, others anticipated on-court dust-ups between the star point guard and opponents like Chicago Sky forward Angel Reese with the pandemonium of a UFC bloodbath.

It didn't take long before the hype extended beyond women's basketball, to the point where Clark was being used as an example of double-standards and weaponized to support racist and sexist causes, a situation she found deplorable. "Treating every single woman in this league with the same amount of respect, I think, it's just a basic human thing that everybody should do," she told the press (via The Guardian). Meanwhile, the WNBA has benefited from Clark's presence with spiking arena attendance and skyrocketing TV ratings, even though Clark is unwittingly at the eye of a conspiracy-laden hurricane the league could well do without.

Some thought she got more attention than other worthy draft picks

Ahead of the 2024 WNBA draft, the odds had it that the University of Iowa's Caitlin Clark would be the league's top draft pick. But while all eyes were on Clark as the Indiana Fever selected her first, fewer scribes dedicated the same attention to another first-round draft pick: LSU grad Angel Reese, one of Clark's most formidable NCAA opponents. Selected seventh overall by the Chicago Sky, Reese faced off against Clark in college and helped defeat Iowa four different times.

Former WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes seemed to question Clark's draft status when the WNBA was roughly a quarter into its season, giving the edge in play to Reese. "If rookie of the year was picked today, I'd give it to Angel," she said on the "Gil's Arena" podcast. "She's going to play hard, period. No matter who they're playing."

After becoming the No. 1 draft pick, Clark was widely expected to be the No. 1 rookie in the 2024 season. In June 2024, The Athletic pegged Reese as their No. 1 with Clark in third, trailing Aaliyah Edwards, a native Canadian and Washington Mystics forward. The media hubbub over Clark during the draft also drowned out the increasing effect of WNBA's reach around the globe. Of the 12 rookies selected in the first round, Edwards was one of 4 non-Americans signed, with the others being France's Leïla Lacan (Connecticut Sun) and Carla Leite (Dallas Wings), and Australia's Nyadiew Puoch (Atlanta Dream).

Caitlin Clark has been the target of sexism

While Caitlin Clark enjoys a new legion of admirers after being selected to join the WNBA ranks, an old-boys mentality permeating sports media continues to be harder to shake. Take one exchange in April 2024 at an Indiana Fever media conference between Clark and Indianapolis Star reporter Gregg Doyel, which started when he imitated Clark's ritualistic heart gesture off-camera.

"I do that at my family after every game," she remarked. Responded Doyel, "Well, start doing it to me and we'll get along fine." Doyel's remark sparked an angry backlash on social media, prompting his publication to suspend Doyel and ban him from attending the Fever's home games for the rest of the season. "Caitlin Clark, I'm so sorry," Doyle wrote in a subsequent Star column (via People).

ESPN podcaster Pat McAfee tried to emphasize Clark's significance amidst a wave of strong draft picks; before committing a misogynist and racist double-whammy. "Nah, just call it for what it is — there's one white b***h for the Indiana team who is a superstar," he snorted on his show (via Forbes). McAfee later apologized on social media. Less repentant was Bill Maher, who on his "Real Time" show, took the sexist route to attack Clark's team for not offering support after an opponent knocked her down. "Only women would do this," declared Mahar on the offending segment that surfaced on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Women are catty, even the ones on her own team."

She doesn't exactly play clean on the court

Caitlin Clark has not only become a basketball sensation, but a national treasure that must be protected, according to some of her more vocal supporters. That gaggle includes New York Post columnist Steve Serby, who wrote, "The last thing anyone in the WNBA should want is injuring the golden goose that lays the golden egg." A 2024 WNBA game against Chicago witnessed Clark get floored by Chennedy Carter, which led to an internet firestorm of people coming to Clark's defense.

Clark might be a holy grail of sorts, but she's hardly a shrinking violet, at least according to WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes, who claimed the rookie regularly gets away with committing infractions such as flopping. "If you want to talk about bullies, we can talk about each every time Caitlin has the ball, she pushes off. I'm just saying," she pointed out on the "Gil's Arena" podcast.

Swoopes seemed to have plenty of evidence to back up those assertions. During her Iowa days, Clark was known to sometimes push other players around, as was the case in one 2023 game against Purdue. After all, basketball has always been a physical game. Besides Swoopes, even Clark's own father seemed to be annoyed at her on-court behavior. Tired of seeing her daughter bicker about referees during an Iowa game against Holy Cross, he was seen sternly mouthing at her to stop from the sidelines.

A portion of her audience is 'disrespectful' towards the WNBA

There's no argument that Caitlin Clark's exploding fan base has been good for the WNBA. But pundits who follow the league expressed concerns that Clark's maniacal minions would heap on her an enormous set of expectations she might not be able to meet during her rookie season. "The delusional fan base that follows her disrespected the WNBA players," said UConn women's basketball head coach Geno Auriemma on the "Dan Patrick Show." "She's third or fourth in betting odds on being MVP of the WNBA. These people are so disrespectful and so unknowledgeable and so stupid that it gives women's basketball a bad name."

Others have argued that the Clark faithful emotionally investing in their superstar do so at the detriment of the rest of the league. After Connecticut Suns player DiJonai Carrington apparently mocked Clark during a game and faced intense lambasting on social media, she responded on X, "Unfortunately for yall new fAnS, we do not just 'shut up and dribble' here. Ya picked the wrong league," emphasizing the wonky "fAnS" capitalization to ridicule disingenuous Clark followers.

Clark, for her part, showed reluctance to talk about the frenzy. "I'm not on social media, so I don't see a lot of it," Clark said to sportscaster Christine Brennan on X. "I still have my TV on in my house and, like, I'm watching sports, like, you're still aware of it, and you still see it. But other than that, like, my focus is basketball."

Caitlin Clark's fan base has frightened her colleagues

WNBA pundits often indicate that Caitlin Clark's rabid followers are not only ignorant about the league, but they also pose a danger to all the players involved. Take Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter, who was lambasted by fans on social media after delivering a shoulder check on Clark during a game early in June. One Clark fan later tried to accost Carter at a hotel in Washington, D.C. prior to the team playing the hometown Mystics.

"WOW!!! Thank GOD for security," posted Sky forward Isabelle Harrison on X after the incident. "My teammate being harassed at our hotel is insane! Couldn't even step off the bus!!!" Even Clark's Indiana Fever comrades have felt the wrath of that following, especially when they were struggling early in the season. "I spoke with [Fever forward-center] Aliyah Boston and she said, 'I had to delete Twitter from my phone,'" said ESPN reporter Holly Rowe (via X). "She said the only safe app right now is TikTok, where it's friendly and she can scroll past if there's anything negative."

Still, regardless of which team uniform a WNBA athlete wears, most of them have obviously had enough. "It's troubling to even speak out on bc I know half the responses will be filled with slurs and making excuses for unacceptable behavior," posted Chicago Sky forward Brianna Turner on X. "I know we all have different values and outlooks, but the discourse as of late is disingenuous to say the least."

Caitlin Clark is at the center of some racist controversies

Caitlin Clark is a hot topic in the WNBA, not solely for her collegiate achievements, but evidently her race as well. "She is the newest Great White Hope — a straight white woman excelling in a sport dominated by Black women," said The Root columnist Wayne Washington.

"I think a lot of people may say it's not about Black and White, but to me, it is," noted Las Vegas Aces center A'ja Wilson (via The Philadelphia Citizen). That apparently suits right-wing commentator Matt Walsh just fine, adding that Clark's whiteness deserves such attention. "The WNBA, like the NBA, has very few white players, even fewer who are stars," he crowed on his eponymous podcast. "Anyone who champions diversity should celebrate Clark explicitly because she is white."

But Black WNBA players are hardly celebrating, especially those being attacked on social media. "I've been called every racial slur imaginable lately and my teammates have had it even worse," posted Chicago Sky player Brianna Turner on X, although she didn't cite Clark's fan base as culprits. Echoed Turner's teammate, Angel Reese on social media, "This really is outta control and needs to STOP."

In June, Clark, who has frequently shown disgust over how she has unwittingly been pulled into racial controversy, managed an air of diplomacy addressing reporters on the issue. "People should not be using my name to push those agendas," she said (via The Guardian). "It's disappointing. It's not acceptable."

Her exclusion from the 2024 Olympic team upset her fans

Caitlin Clark fans experienced a huge letdown early in June 2024 when they discovered that Team USA Basketball decided against including Clark onto its Olympic women's team. Team officials pointed out that the dozen players selected had considerable senior team experience, something Clark lacked. That didn't stop fans and pundits alike from voicing their displeasure over omitting the WNBA's top draft pick. "The women's Olympic team does not lose in the Olympics," noted podcaster Colin Cowherd on his Fox Sports streaming channel "The Herd." "I think they've won seven straight golds, but you wouldn't know that. 'Cause you didn't watch. And [with Clark] you would."

Others declared that Clark's absence at the 5-ring circus taking place in Paris was a blown chance to further promote female hoops globally. "Because this great opportunity to publicize international women's basketball has been eliminated," USA Today columnist Christine Brennan declared. "The vast majority of broadcasters and reporters will be able to focus as they always have on the swimmers and gymnasts and runners, and leave the U.S. women's basketball team alone."

Even politicians like Ted Cruz and Nikki Haley waded into the fray, clamoring for Clark to be added to the team. One person unfazed over the issue was Clark herself. "Honestly, no disappointment," she said to reporters about being passed over for an Olympic spot, per NBC News. "I think it just gives you something to work for."