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    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    On Caitlin Clark: Blame the messengers

    Mohegan — And to think we viewed it as Circus Maximus a few weeks back when Queen Caitlin of Clark made her WNBA debut here in our corner of the world.

    The $900 courtside seats. The triple-digit media list. The hype. The tripe. Everything short of “we interrupt this program” during the national news when she tied her left shoe.

    But have you seen it since? Turns out Circus Maximus, which returns Monday night to Mohegan Sun Arena, has employed more clowns than anyone thought fathomable.

    We’ve seen national talk show host Pat McAfee — and lordy, how far that industry has plummeted — call her a “white (expletive)” right there on the air last week, the crassness of which was matched only by his subsequent apology that was about as sincere as Eddie Haskell. We’ve seen others turn Queen Caitlin into fodder for their own musings on racism and sexism — coherent and otherwise.

    We’ve seen a politician in Indiana, Rep. Jim Banks, send a letter to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, seeking answers as to what steps the league will take to protect Clark moving forward. We’ve seen cheap shots issued to Clark on and off the court, a male-dominated media protecting her as if she was the nation’s little sister and now hilarious harrumphing about Clark’s “snub” from the Olympic team.

    Meanwhile, there has been raging interest in the league, record crowds, the addition of charter flights, more marketing and media opportunities and an interest level unparalleled in the game’s history.

    So what to make of all this?

    Start here: What applied to Clark’s story when she was here three weeks ago might honestly apply even more now: Rather than aim the darts at Clark, redirect them toward the keepers of the gate who need a deeper understanding of their subject matter.

    Seriously. These people have watched women’s basketball for 10 minutes and suddenly know more than Geno Auriemma? Stories like Clark’s need to come with their own sense of proportion. Recency bias appears to take proportion and throw it down a flight of stairs. It ought to be the job of the media (and at least one idiotic politician) to be mindful of that. And the best way to bring proportion to any story is to open a history book and understand the significance of who came before you.

    To wit: Clark is hardly the first women’s basketball player ever to endure a hard foul. Or a cheap shot. Chennedy Carter’s actions last week have no place in the game. But where were the keepers of the gate a few days earlier when Alyssa Thomas got ejected in Chicago for throwing Angel Reese to the floor for no reason?

    Their silence begets conversation about the double standard: Clark, the apple-cheeked White woman, gets pushed down and they want Kennedy all but led out in cuffs. Reese, the hard-edged Black woman, gets thrown to the floor and … crickets.

    Then there’s the bloviating over Clark’s snub from the Olympic team. This just in: Others have been snubbed, too, over the years. Most notably (the far more accomplished) Candace Parker in 2016. Where was the moral outrage then? Ah, but then do many of the same commentators — still — know Candace Parker from Candice Bergen?

    The same inertia has also merited some scoldings for WNBA players who apparently need to be more “grateful” to Clark and all she’s provided. As if all the players who built this league in relative anonymity aren’t justified in being irritated at the money and attention suddenly bestowed on this rookie?

    “Clark, a White, straight phenom, has become male sportscasters’ proxy in a league built primarily by Black and LGBTQ athletes whom the mainstream felt fine skimming over in the past,” one (lucid) national writer said. “And in covering the league, they’re relying on outdated tropes about how women are supposed to behave.”

    It’s called being human. But then this is what happens when folks paid to give their opinions talk more than they listen; spew more than they study.

    I never thought the most career points thing made Clark the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in women’s college basketball any more than it made counterpart Pete Maravich the best men’s college basketball player ever. They scored the most points. There have been (and are) better players out there. Many, actually.

    That said, Clark has been wonderful for women’s basketball. The most recognizable player in an era when the game has never been more recognizable. Clark has also been responsible for the country becoming acquainted with the pioneers whose sacrifices helped make this possible.

    Said this three weeks ago and I’ll say it again: I hope you, the good fans of Connecticut, on whose backs the game went national, can see through some of this idiocy. Just try not to hate Clark. It’s the people telling the story that don’t get it.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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