March 4, 2024

Tangled Up in Race on Caitlin Clark

A former WNBA star threw some false shade on Iowa’s record-shattering Caitlin Clark, then tried to defend it by making a dubious claim about race.

Caitlin Clark routinely pulls up and bombs from 30 feet. Women just don’t do that. Heck, hardly any men do that.

To get a sense of the impact that the University of Iowa star has had on women’s basketball since she arrived in Iowa City four years ago, consider the following: A record 10 million viewers tuned in to watch last year’s national championship game between Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes and the LSU Tigers. That viewership total was more than double that of the previous year’s title game and, for comparison, just a couple million viewers short of last year’s NBA Championship finals.

Or consider: The average total ticket haul for a women’s home game at Purdue University is $21,920. But when Clark and her sixth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes came to town recently, ticket sales were $106,257.

Or consider: Last October 9, Northwestern University’s athletic department took the extraordinary step of making extra seats available for a women’s basketball game against Iowa that was still two and a half months away. And yet, on game day, Wednesday, January 31, fans began lining up in the cold at 10 a.m. even though tip-off was still nine hours away. Two hours before game time, the line stretched halfway around Welsh-Ryan Arena. And at game time, the cheapest ticket available for resale on Ticketmaster was $243. For a women’s regular-season college basketball game. On a Wednesday night.

Yesterday afternoon, at the last home game of her remarkable career, Clark poured in 35 and broke the NCAA basketball all-time Division I scoring record of 3,617 points — a mark that had been held by Pete Maravich for more than half a century. She did so as Iowa knocked off Ohio State, the nation’s second-ranked team.

Given all the hype surrounding Clark, it’s not surprising that she’d attract some haters. Such is the nature of sport. But some of the hate seems directed at Clark for no other reason than the color of her skin. One of them, sadly, is Sheryl Swoopes, a WNBA Hall of Famer and one of the legendary names in women’s basketball history.

“Records are made and set to [be] broken,” said Swoopes a few weeks ago. But then: “If you’re going to break a record, to me, if it’s legitimate, you have to break that record in the same amount of time that that player set it in. So if Kelsey Plum set that record in four years, well Caitlin should have broke that record in four years. … She’s already had an extra year to break that record. So, is it truly a broken record? It’s not to take anything away from what she’s done, but if you’re talking about breaking records … then you should do it in that same amount of time.”

Trouble is, Swoopes is dead wrong. Clark didn’t need “an extra year” to break the women’s scoring record; she’s played the standard four years of college basketball.

Swoopes also threw a bit of shade on Clark’s professional prospects: “Will Caitlin Clark be a good pro? Absolutely,” she said. “Will Caitlin Clark come into the WNBA and do what she’s doing right now? Immediately? Absolutely not. Not gonna happen.”

Finally, in yet another attempt to diminish Clark’s accomplishments, Swoopes said she “probably takes about 40 shots a game.” And this, again, is flat-out wrong. In fact, Clark takes fewer than 23 shots per game.

When journalists and fans alike pointed out the errors in Swoopes’s criticism, she took to Instagram: “First off, I was asked for MY opinion. Not asking anyone to agree or disagree. Second, NEVER hatin on anybody! Wayyyyy too blessed for that! Third, I wish NOTHING but the best for AR and CC! Yall be blessed! Yall funny.”

It’s fair to say that Swoopes was indeed asked her opinion, but this reminds us of what former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Apparently unsatisfied with Swoopes’s response, Iowa’s social media team fired back to promote a new T-shirt that Iowa hoops fans are now wearing. It reads, “Don’t be a Sheryl.”


When you find yourself in a hole, it’s best to stop digging. But Swoopes didn’t heed that advice. Instead, when she was asked about whether there was a racial component to her inaccurate criticisms of Clark, she said something utterly ridiculous.

“I’m gonna say this and then I want to be done with the whole conversation,” Swoopes began. “For people to come at me and say I made those comments because I’m a racist, first of all, black people can’t be racist. But that’s the farthest thing from my mind.”

“Black people can’t be racist,” huh? It’s hard to know where to start with this, but the statement itself is racist. Holding one race to a different standard than another race is ipso facto racist. Worse yet, she’s holding blacks to a lower standard. Former President George W. Bush might call this “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

To take just one top-of-mind example, when NBA mediocrity Montrezl Harrell calls Slovenian NBA star Luka Doncic a “bitch a** white boy,” it’s a racist remark. Full stop.

But don’t take our word for it. As Larry Elder notes in Chapter 1 of his bestselling 2000 book The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America, “Blacks are more racist than whites.”

That’s an inflammatory statement, to be sure, but Elder, a staunch conservative, backs his assertion up with example after example. (At 66 pages, it’s by far the longest chapter in his book.) As Elder notes, “Many blacks simply despise whites.” But perhaps his most powerful evidence of black racism is the litany of slurs that “his people” have called him: “Oreo. Uncle Tom. Boot-licking Uncle Tom. Straight-up Uncle Tom. Judas. Boy. Bug-eyed. Foot-shuffling. Sugarcane Negro…”

Sadly, Elder’s list goes on and on. And were he ever to call out Sheryl Swoopes for her idiotic statement or her sloppy critique of Caitlin Clark, we suspect she’d give him a few more terms to add to his list.

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