Sunday Blog: Our obsession of Caitlin Clark may cloud the fact she isn’t ready for the Olympics

Commentary by Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — I have been trying to pinpoint what it is about Indiana Fever and former Iowa Hawkeye Caitlin Clark — the most famous women’s basketball player in the world — has so many people worked up about everything that happens to her. I came up with a great analogy.

Clark is the little girl basketball player, and her devoted fan base is overbearing sports parents.

I know a little about overbearing sports parents. They have been part of my life for more than 30 years. They are well-meaning people who only want the best for their children. But sometimes, that comes at a sacrifice to everyone else around them: the coaches, the refs, the other teammates, the sports reporter, the school, the dog, the cat, and those who innocently have to work with these parents who have absolutely nothing to do with the sport the darling is playing for.

There seems to be an ownership with her that I haven’t seen with any other athlete. Some feel:

•The WNBA players are picking on her.

•She is white so she is a victim of reverse prejudice.

•She isn’t getting a fair shake because she has saved the league.

The latest social media outrage is she has not been selected for the 2024 U.S. Olympic basketball team.

My first thought is that I’m not sure I care who is on the team, and my second is that she needs a break.

Clark has been working nonstop since the college basketball season started. She started practice sometime in October, played a full season, got Iowa to the Final Four, and was immediately drafted to play in the WNBA, which starts in May. She is now playing for a terrible team, a first for her.

She is doing this while transforming women’s basketball into a full-fledged major spectacle sport, doing commercials, going on Saturday Night Live, and becoming a major celebrity.

The Olympics in Paris will delay the WNBA season for three weeks, as the nation’s 12 players compete for the gold medal—not to mention those foreign-born and playing for other countries while in the WNBA.

If I were Clark, I would enjoy the break.

If Clark is as good as she is being made out to be, there are other Olympics where she could compete.

People are missing the fact that she isn’t a top-12 basketball player at this moment. She is near the top of the WNBA in assists, but she is No. 14 in scoring, and she is currently a terrible WNBA defender.

She is also a rookie. She isn’t the first rookie to not make the team. Taurasi didn’t in 2004. Candace Parker in 2008, and Brenna Stewart in 2016 were not in the Olympic lineup. They all became legendary WNBA players and eventually played on Olympic teams.

Nevertheless, I have been reading numerous social media posts saying there is a conspiracy to leave her off the team because the other WNBA players don’t like her.

This argument doesn’t hold up because the Olympic committee is not affiliated with the WNBA. It is chosen by an anonymous six-member panel. I’m not privy to why they left her off the team, but I can guess why they did.

First, there are only 12 spots, and nobody has a talent pool like the U.S. We’ve been playing girls’/women’s basketball for over 50 years and have gotten good at it. It is a pretty elite group. Also, there were several guards at Clark’s position to choose from.

I also think the committee members are probably not much different from those who pick high school cheerleaders or those who serve on corporate executive boards.

They go with the safe alternative. Diana Taurasi, the 41-year-old guard who played with Moses at Connecticut, is taking criticism for being selected on this year’s Olympic team. She may no longer be a top-12 player. However, the conventional wisdom among long-time basketball observers is that she is there for her leadership. That’s understandable. In today’s world, good leadership is hard to come by.

There are those who argue that Clark is the reason so many people have started watching women’s basketball, and the Olympics excluding her is stupid from a marketing standpoint. I agree that Clark has brought new fans to women’s basketball, but I don’t think the Olympic committee should be worried about marketing.

Marketing doesn’t bring home the gold medal. The U.S. Men’s Dream Team in the 1990s had stars, but every one of those stars was a great basketball player.

Besides, if Clark is included on the team just to draw eyebrows, that will only fuel the jealousy and resentment now permeating some WNBA circles. That is a whole different topic I can’t discuss here because this column is long enough.

Like many, I have become obsessed with the Clark phenomenon. This obsession goes beyond basketball and is spilling into social issues, how we treat women, race and one another.

And this overbearing fandom of Clark is an example of people taking ownership in a cause that is completely separate from her ability to play basketball.

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