It’s Time to Ban Men From Talking About Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, and the WNBA

Male sports analysts and the most annoying people on the internet are obsessed with painting WNBA players as "petty" and "dramatic" for conflict and rivalries that are typical in all sports. This week, ESPN's Pat McAfee referred to Clark as “the white bitch.”

In Depth
It’s Time to Ban Men From Talking About Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, and the WNBA

After breaking seemingly every record that existed throughout her college career, Caitlin Clark made her highly anticipated WNBA debut with the Indiana Fever in May, and the internet has not been normal since. 

This is namely due to male sports analysts and men on social media, in general, being obsessed with inserting themselves into any amount of WNBA drama, while also insinuating the women athletes are being uniquely “petty.” If watching the NBA for the last odd decade of my life has impressed anything upon me, it’s that feuds, rivalries, and trading barbs are all run-of-the-mill in sports—but where LeBron James is “competitive” for getting into it with referees or other players, WNBA players who aren’t best friends with Caitlin Clark are “dramatic.”

The events of the weekend only pushed the discourse surrounding Clark to new levels of unbearable. After a controversial, flagrant foul on Clark by the Chicago Sky’s Chennedy Carter on Saturday, an onslaught of social media debate ensued about whether Clark is being unfairly treated by the league, with WNBA players and coaches weighing in. Then, for whatever reason, ESPN’s Pat McAfee—the deeply annoying host responsible for bringing on Aaron Rodgers seemingly every other day last year to make new, outlandish comments—felt the need to insert himself, too.

“What the WNBA currently has is what we like to describe as a cash cow. There is a superstar,” McAfee said on The Pat McAfee Show on Monday. “I would like the media people that continue to say, ‘This rookie class, this rookie class, this rookie class.’ Nah, just call it for what it is—there’s one white bitch for the Indiana team who is a superstar.” (Mind you, around the same time ESPN laid off dozens of its on-air talent in 2023, the network finalized a five-year, $85 million contract with McAfee.) McAfee went on to offer a tepid apology for his words that same day, specifically apologizing for calling Clark a “white bitch”—without any acknowledgment of how reductive, unhelpful, and racist it was for him to lift her up as the majority-Black league’s savior.

But before McAfee’s Monday comment, men, and unfortunately men with significant sports media platforms, have refused to be normal about Clark, her role in the WNBA, and how other players are allegedly treating her. “You women out there, y’all petty, man,” Charles Barkley said on-air last month, speaking to WNBA players broadly. “Y’all should be thanking that girl for getting y’all ass private charters, all the money and visibility she’s bringing to the WNBA… bringing all that money and shine to the WNBA.” I am, again, rolling my eyes at the insinuation that female athletes are “petty” as well as the narrative that Clark is singlehandedly saving the league. Former NBA player and current analyst Matt Barnes offered similar commentary, claiming he’s “seen a couple of girls smirk when she’s got knocked down, half-ass to pick her up,” and telling WNBA players on his talk-show All the Smoke that they’ve “got to do better, ladies.” I doubt he’d tell Steph Curry and the Warriors they’ve “got to do better” if they played a particularly physical game against another star player and engaged in shady comments afterward.

This isn’t to say Clark’s first month in the league has been especially peaceful or smooth. Over the last few days, there have been a couple of scrapes between Clark and other WNBA players, all on top of weeks of online speculation that other players have been hostile to her for the outsized attention she receives, and possible barbs other players have made about her. All of which is well and good, but idiotic comments from male commentators like McAfee suggest there’s something especially childish about women athletes in a cutthroat sport having some degree of beef.

And there’s no denying the weekend incident involving Clark and Carter was bumpy. On Saturday, when the Indiana Fever played Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky, tensions ran high after Carter hip-checked Clark, who appeared to fall to the ground with Carter receiving a foul for the interaction. The Cut notes there have been mixed reports about what happened moments before, with some claims that Carter called Clark a “bitch” and other claims that Clark elbowed Carter earlier in the game. 

At a presser after the game, Clark admitted she’s frustrated with the rough defending, as well as the lack of calls from the referees she’s faced in the last month. Her coach, Christie Sides, said she’s sending plays—where she believes officiating was unfair to Clark—to the WNBA to review. “It’s tough to keep getting hammered the way she does and to not get rewarded with free throws or foul calls,” Sides told reporters. She also tagged the WNBA in a tweet about the unfair treatment she believes Clark is facing: “This is unacceptable. When will the consistent complaints be heard?!?” The following day, in the wake of significant outrage over the officiating around Carter’s brush with Clark, the WNBA upgraded Carter’s foul to a flagrant-1 violation; on Threads, Carter appeared to take a shot at Clark, replying to a post about Carter and Clark’s scrape, “beside three point shooting what does she bring to the table man 😂,” then sharing a video accusing Clark of flopping.

And I actually think this is all great—or not great, entirely normal! This is the kind of drama and competitiveness that make the NBA so fun. Brush-ups and exchanges of words are obviously a regular occurrence in men’s basketball and any sport you could name. Carter and Clark may not exactly be best friends forever, and a ref may have made a controversial call; this ensuing drama hardly means that, as McAfee nastily suggested, we should all drop everything and fixate solely on Clark.

I, personally, prefer Angel Reese’s analysis. At a presser on Monday, Reese spoke to reporters and addressed the narrative that Clark’s much-hyped entrance into the WNBA reanimated the league: “The reason why we’re watching women’s basketball is not just because of one person,” she rightly said. “It’s because of me, too. I want y’all to realize that.” Reese, who’s faced torrents of racist, misogynistic vitriol since her collegiate career (simply for being a competitive star athlete who knows she’s a star athlete), faced a predictable smattering of misplaced online criticism for this. Her comments have been widely perceived as attacking Clark but she’s just stating a fact: Yes, Clark has brought a lot of eyes and attention to the WNBA but other stars in the league have been doing this for years, and Reese and the rest of the rookie class are exciting to follow and watch, too. 

Reese’s comments aren’t even anywhere near as adversarial as things that NBA players say about each other all the time. But even as several WNBA players have repeatedly clarified that there’s no animosity toward Clark and this is just what competitive basketball entails, male sports commentators and the most annoying people on the internet have been having a field day with all of this.

Shockingly, the level of vitriol and implicit racism baked into media coverage of and online discourse about the WNBA right now is somehow even stupider and more toxic than I, at least, anticipated. All of this is to say, it’s time to ban men from talking about the WNBA until they get it together and stop pissing me off. I’m glad more people are following the WNBA, but if it’s just to project their racist, sexist hang-ups and interject misogynistic spin on the fun dramas, instead of enjoying great basketball, I’d prefer that they just…shut up???

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