Caitlin Clark doesn’t want to be held responsible for the worst takes about her

Media sessions have been a crowded event for the Fever this season, but it’s had little to do with the on-court performance of one of the league’s worst teams. Instead, it’s often been about Caitlin Clark and the storylines that have followed her, from Chennedy Carter’s hard foul to the rookie sensation being left off Team USA.

Thursday was no different. Cameras flocked to Gainbridge Fieldhouse not because the Fever were returning home for the first time in two weeks, but because of another storyline about Clark away from the court.

During Fever shootaround on Thursday morning in Indiana, Clark was asked by Jim Trotter of The Athletic for her thoughts on her name being used in “culture wars” that have largely sparked up recently after she was left off the U.S. Olympic roster heading to Paris, creating a firestorm of reactions from fans to politicians alike.

While her response to questions about that could be viewed as an attempt to avoid further stoking the flames, it didn’t do much to smother them, either.

Clark has reiterated multiple times throughout her rookie season that she is both not on social media, and does not communicate much with those around the league, outside of former Iowa teammate Kate Martin. Her focus has been on her Fever teammates and working on improving on the court.

But if one felt like that answer left something to be desired, they weren’t alone. In fact, Dijonai Carrington of the Connecticut Sun took particular issues with Clark’s response and tweeted about it.

To be clear — and to push back on some more bad faith narratives — not every WNBA player feels that way. In an appearance on “Podcast P with Paul George,” Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally offered empathy for Clark.

“It’s really, really hard to put that much pressure on a young woman to be a spokesperson for things that the United States, and really globally and historically, we have struggled with as an entire society,” Sabally said. “Can you talk about white privilege? Yes you can. But do you have to be the spokesperson for that? I don’t think so. If that doesn’t come from her, I think it’s unfair to put that burden on someone.”

It’s also entirely believable that Clark hasn’t seen much of the debate or culture wars surrounding her name, considering how little she says she is on social media. But it’s also entirely fair to expect more out of her in denouncing any sort of bigotry as well.

While Clark may not be responsible for how her name is used, it’s also naive to ignore how it’s been used and what has happened to those who have fallen into her orbit this season. Even if Clark doesn’t regularly use social media, the likes of the Sky’s Chennedy Carter and Carrington, who also went somewhat viral on Monday in her game against the Fever after mocking Clark following a foul call, do.

And those players have been subjected to some of the most extreme nastiness that comes with being online. They’ve been the ones that have dealt with the racism and bigotry that Carrington tweeted about. The Sky, for example, had a man wait outside their hotel to harass them as they exited the bus just days after Carter’s hard foul against Clark.

Even Clark’s teammate Aliyah Boston found herself in the crossfire. After struggling to start the season, Boston deleted her social media off her phone due to all the hate levied her way.

All of this has long since crossed the line past normal basketball discourse to become something much worse. Chiney Ogwumike, a former WNBA player turned analyst for ESPN, has offered impassioned pleas on multiple occasions, speaking out against the polarization around the league. The conversation has veered away from sports and into far more serious discussions about race, gender and sexuality, with Clark’s name right at the center of many of them.

Clark didn’t ask to be involved in so much of this. She didn’t ask to be fouled by Carter. She didn’t ask to be left off Team USA. And she isn’t asking for her name to be used in those aforementioned culture wars, either.

But while Clark can sit back and not hear the noise, many around her, friend or foe, don’t necessarily have that luxury. And silence from Clark not only doesn’t help the issue, it could be perceived by some as a silent endorsement of the actions.

Posed with a chance to address the topic again prior to Thursday’s game against the Dream, Clark had a much stronger response to a question from James Boyd of The Athletic.

Given the benefit of hindsight, Clark likely would have gone with the second response to the first question to avoid the situation. Whether the delay was a matter of realizing she needed to word her answer better, or the more direct question leading to a more clear, direct response, Clark’s comments pregame were much more forceful, even if they still likely won’t satisfy those who feel she hasn’t done enough to call out those using her name to fuel racist and homophobic narratives.

It’s also worth remembering that Clark is going through all of this for the first time. She’s a 22-year-old rookie who was thrust into the spotlight for the WNBA. She’s been cast into a role as a spokesperson for issues that existed long before her, and may not yet be comfortable with that status.

College offered a sort of insulation that led to her not being quite at the center of these matters as often, save for perhaps her showdown in the national title game against Angel Reese and LSU.

But Iowa is in her past. Clark is one of the faces of the WNBA and, fair or foul, her words — or, in some cases, her lack of them — are under a new level of scrutiny. It’s the blessing and the curse of living a dream in the public eye.

Clark shouldn’t be responsible for the worst takes about her. But as she seemingly learned on Thursday, silence about them isn’t the correct approach either.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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