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Male-dominated media doesn’t know how to cover Caitlin Clark and WNBA | Commentary

Will everybody just please leave Caitlin Clark alone and let her be a basketball player in the WNBA instead of turning her into a political debate, a racial issue, an anti-LGBTQ symbol and even an assault victim.

Yes, you heard me, an assault victim.

That’s pretty much how the Chicago Tribune described Clark in an editorial earlier this week after the much-publicized Indiana Fever guard was hip-checked to the floor by Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter during a game over the weekend.

“The foul committed by [Carter] was egregious,” the Tribune’s editorial board wrote. “Outside of a sporting contest, it would have been seen as an assault. Even within a sporting context, it was bad: before the ball even was inbounded, Carter came up from behind Clark, shoving her at the hip and knocking her over. Lip readers simultaneously construed a five-letter epithet dancing on the Sky player’s lips. She should have been ejected from the game.”

With all due respect to the esteemed members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board, but don’t they have weightier topics to write about such as too much gun violence and not enough affordable housing in the Windy City? Instead, they’re writing about a routine cheap-shot foul during a professional basketball game and are seemingly shocked that one athlete — gasp! — calls another athlete a profane name in the heat of competition.

Like such profanity doesn’t happen 100 times a night during an NBA game. Seriously, would the editorial board have written the same thing if Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine had committed a hard foul and hurled a trash-talking profanity at Indiana Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton? Of course not.

Then again, that’s men’s basketball and it seems the media — and society in general — have developed a double standard when covering and rooting for women’s sports. Especially when it involves Caitlin Clark, who gained immense popularity as a record-breaking college player at Iowa and suddenly has the click-bait media and hot-take cable news outlets talking about her non-stop in ways they would never talk about male athletes and sports.

Popular ESPN TV host Pat McAfee referred to Clark as a “white [expletive]” earlier this week and later apologized for the blatantly sexist reference. McAfee lamely tried to explain it away as if he was using the word as a term of endearment, but I’m betting he’s never called a male sports figure an insulting, profane, racially charged name on a mainstream sports network like ESPN.

Likewise, if he were interviewing a male sports star a few weeks ago, would Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel have made Clark’s trademark “heart sign” with his hands during a cringeworthy exchange with her at an introductory news conference in Indianapolis? He was suspended by his newspaper and forbidden from covering Fever home games — yet another media overreaction to the Clark craze.

Which brings us to Carter’s cheap shot of Clark, which has set off a firestorm of media debate on whether opposing WNBA players are “targeting” Cait the Great and administering hard fouls because of — pick one — her race (white), her sexual orientation (straight) or her tax bracket (rich).

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, Carter, like many male athletes in sports like the NBA and NHL, is an enforcer whose job it is to antagonize and rough up the other team’s best player? Or are women supposed to be less competitive and more docile than their male counterparts? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s innately misogynistic to think that women athletes should be more dainty and dignified than their male counterparts.

“Chennedy Carter’s behavior is not indicative of the entire WNBA,” says ESPN basketball analyst Monica McNutt. “We are still talking about competition, where you are allowed to get a little extra elbow in if you are competing and do it within the parameters of the game. The game is physical, Caitlin is helping to grow the league, these women understand that, but she cannot be babied as a rookie.”

A case could be made that the WNBA players are actually doing Clark a favor by toughening her up. Let’s not forget how the macho sports media glorified the bullying “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons during the late 1980s and early ’90s when they developed a specific defensive strategy known as the “Jordan Rules” to counteract Michael Jordan’s offensive mastery. This strategy included hard fouls and an aggressive, even dirty style of play in an attempt to physically and mentally derail Jordan’s greatness. It is one of the main reasons Jordan developed into the assassin he became.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t some petty jealousy in the WNBA because of all of the attention and endorsements Clark is getting.

And, yes, there’s some racial resentment because Clark, a white rookie from the Midwest, is being portrayed as the savior of a league that is more than 60 percent black.

Might there even be some among the WNBA’s large LGBTQ population who believe Clark’s straightness has contributed to her popularity? Maybe.

But, mainly, this cacophony of controversy and consternation surrounding Caitlin Clark and the WNBA is just media-generated noise by a male-dominated industry that has no clue about how to cover women’s sports.

In the end, all of the petty spite and jealousy will all work itself out just like it did years ago when Tiger Woods joined the PGA Tour.

At first, there were some golfers who resented that Tiger got all of the attention and endorsements, but when the TV ratings and tournament purses skyrocketed and the entire PGA Tour started making tons more money, everybody realized Tiger was a cash cow and a meal ticket.

The same will happen with Caitlin Clark.

Right now, WNBA players are knocking her down.

Soon enough, they will be propping her up.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on X (formerly Twitter) @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and 969TheGame.com/listen