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The Clark Controversy

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Coming out of high school, Caitlin Clark was rated a 5-star recruit. She was named a McDonald’s All-American and was rated the fourth-best player in her class by ESPN. She had plenty of elite D1 offers but ultimately decided to commit to her hometown college team, The University of Iowa’s Hawkeyes.

During her time at Iowa, she had an abundance of success and in the process elevated the women game to remarkable heights. According to, in her 139 total career games played during her four years at the University of Iowa, Clark’s career averages were 28.4 points-per-game, 8.2 assists-per-game, and 7.1 rebounds-per-game. Some of her accolades include breaking the NCAA scoring record, mens and womens. NCAA D1 single-season 3-point record, three-time NCAA season scoring leader, three-time NCAA season assists leader. She holds the NCAA Tournament records in points, assists, and 3-pointers.

Two-time Player of the Year, two-time USBWA National Player of the Year,  three-time Unanimous First-Team All-American, and four-time First-team All-Big Ten award winner just to name a few accolades. The point is, Caitlin Clark is one of the most decorated women’s college basketball players in the sport’s history, and has contributed greatly to the game.

During the 2023 NCAA tournament, Caitlin Clark hit a game sealing 3 pointer against Hailey Van Lith and Louisville. In celebration she did the John Cena “You can’t see me” celebration. Louisiana State University superstar forward and 2023 NCAA tournament champion Angel Reese didn’t take to that kindly, as in the closing seconds of the Iowa vs LSU championship game, Angel Resse taunted Clark by doing that same celebration in her face. This brought a lot of attention and boosted the popularity of women’s basketball immensely. Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark’s names have been linked since, they both gained more eyes on themselves and the women’s game. Consequently, both Reese and Clark gained many big name endorsements from brands, including Beats by Dre, Reebok and PlayStation for Reese and Wilson, Gatorade, and State Farm for Clark. 

This year when the two players and their respective teams played each other again in the 2024 NCAA tournament the game shattered records. The Elite Eight match-up averaged 12.3 million viewers on ESPN. Audience peaked at 16.1 million. It was the most-watched men’s or women’s college basketball game ever on ESPN more than doubled the prior largest audience. It was second only to the Iowa vs University of Connecticut Final Four game from this year, in which Caitlin Clark also played. Eventually, Clark went on to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament,and along the way, became an icon in women’s sports.. Clark later went first overall to the Indiana Fever in the 2024 WNBA draft. Because of this success, Clark earned a $28 Million dollar endorsement deal with Nike which is more than 28 times the average WNBA contract. However, this turned out to be very controversial. 

Before the surge of popularity the WNBA – and women’s basketball, overall – received after the 2023 NCAA championship, the WNBA received far less support and resources than other women’s leagues and players in the NBA. WNBA teams had to fly commercial flights instead of private or charter flights, which proved to be a security risk. The WNBA was not televised often because of the cost of getting those time slots.. Because it wasn’t promoted often, the game attendance was low. Which meant that the league couldn’t make much money, and the players couldn’t either. 

However, the most pressing issue was their pay. It was so low that superstars like Brittney Griner had to go overseas to get more money to play basketball just to live comfortably. It also took a lot more effort and a lot longer to gain endorsement deals. WNBA superstar and two-time champion Kelsey Plum stated that they didn’t even get the money from jersey sales. Plum said, “ We are not asking to get paid what the men get paid, we’re asking to get paid the same amount of revenue.” For instance, sales from merchandise and tickets. 

However, when Clark and the rest of her class of rookies joined the league, everything changed. According to ESPN, in the first month of her and other rookies like Angel Reese and Cameron Brink playing, the WNBA drew its highest attendance since the second season of the league in 1998. The WNBA witnessed its best television ratings in its history. According to ESPN, ABC, CBS, and NBA TV, WNBA games are averaging 1.32 million viewers, nearly triple the last season’s average of 462,000. Arenas have been filled to 94 percent capacity, a 17 percent raise from last year. Some games have even been moved to bigger venues to accommodate the large crowds. Merchandise sales also rose 236 percent this season, as well. Caitlin Clark currently has the highest selling jersey in the WNBA. This is everything that WNBA players have been asking for, but Clark and other rookies have still been challenged by their fellow players since joining the league.

Rookies always go through hazing or are given a hard time in order to prove themselves, but some basketball fans feel Clark’s experience this year is a great example of how much worse it has been after so much attention. During a June game, Chicago Sky Guard, Chennedy Carter shoulder checked Clark so hard she fell to the ground and then called her a “b****.” .  During a post-game interview, Chennedy Carter said, “What does she bring to the table besides three-point shooting?” 

The foul was later upgraded to a flagrant foul, but when asked if Carter owed her a public apology, Clark said no. “Basketball is competitive. Sometimes your emotions get the best of you. It’s happened to me a couple of times,” said Clark

Some fans have praised Clark, in particular, for bringing more attention to the league, which has caused some division among supporters of the support.  It’s possible that those complaints aren’t truly about Clark’s success. They’re mad that people are only now caring about the WNBA when there has been plenty of talent in the league before but they have got little recognition and if other people cared enough like how they did now things could have been very different. 

Some players could be mad because of how fast she is getting everything. For instance, Caitlin Clark got an Nike endorsement deal in the beginning of her rookie year worth $28 million. That alone would make her the highest paid WNBA player. Champion and MVP A’ja WIlson is just now achieving this in her eighth year in the league. She is averaging 28 points-per-game, 11 rebounds-per-game, three assists-per-game, and three blocks-per-game, but a rookie got a Nike endorsement deal before her.

This reporter posted several interview questions on social media regarding Caitlin Clark and how she has been treated since entering the WNBA. Four teens responded. 

When asked if they believe new WNBA rookies bringing in more fans than veteran players could be a source of jealousy for some players, one teen said, “I do believe the rookies are helping the WNBA grow more popular, especially with Generation Z becoming interested as these people are closer to our age. There is certainly an element of jealousy among the players as most want the spotlight and these new players are more popular than the old players that have done their time.”

Another question posed was “If players have wanted attention in their league for so long, why do they seem to be having such a negative reaction toward a player who has received mass attention in such a short time span?” One teen answered, “I don’t know, maybe they feel they weren’t enough and feel it isn’t fair that the newcomers get more attention”. Another teen replied, “They’ve been doing the same thing and nobody watched in great numbers and here comes a new person and everybody loves her. A third teen stated, “ I feel as if it all comes down to jealousy within the sport as no one seemed to care about WNBA before her.”

We also wanted to learn about other teens’ stance on Clark’s absence from the recently released USA Women’s Basketball roster for the 2024 Olympics.This question got the most activity out of any other question. Teens replied, “In my opinion she’s too young, yes she brings a lot to the wnba but at the end of the day only the best of the best make it.” 

“No, I think the WNBA made a stupid decision. Caitlin Clark is obviously one of the best [WNBA] players and if they put her in the Olympics the WNBA would 100% make much more money because of her popularity,” said another. A third teen replied, “I do not believe she deserves to be left off as she’s brought popularity to women’s sports, not just women’s basketball, and that’s a big step in sport.”

When asked if they feel the treatment Clark has received since entering the league is fair,one teen answered, “Being a celebrity comes with so many luxuries and part of the life of an athlete is criticism. If you can’t take it, don’t be an athlete.” 

Another replied, “I say she is not being treated fair because she is not in the Olympics when she should definitely be in it and everybody and their mom knows she should be in it.” 

The last teen said, “I feel that her teammates do belittle her because of jealousy but the fans definitely do love her. It’s unfair as she is helping women’s sports become more popular and noticed in the sports community.”


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