Columnists, Mike Rosen, National, Uncategorized

Rosen: Why the WNBA needs Caitlin Clark

After carrying the University of Iowa to the NCAA championship finals, Caitlin Clark turned pro and was chosen by the Indiana Fever as the first pick in the WNBA draft.  In her college career she scored more points than any player in NCAA history — man or woman!  Just her presence in the NCAA women’s tournament brought TV audiences, including men, to record levels attracted by her extraordinary playmaking and 3-point shooting.

That following has carried over to her rookie year in the WNBA with national TV networks covering the Fever even while it lost 10 of its first 13 games.  They’ll likely improve when Caitlin’s teammates learn how to connect with her highlight-reel passing.  Nevertheless, she’s already become the fastest in league history to reach at least 200 points and 50 assists.

Sadly, many of Caitlin’s colleagues haven’t exactly welcomed her with open arms.  Of course, I don’t expect other teams to step aside and give her a clear path to the hoop, and rookies traditionally don’t get much respect from veteran opponents or refs.  But Caitlin has been targeted with exceptionally rough physical contact and downright nasty treatment.

In one recent game, the Chicago Fire’s Chennedy Carter scored a basket, then as the Fever was about to in-bound the ball, without provocation Carter viciously shouldered Caitlin to the floor, calling her a “bitch,” and later laughing about it on the sidelines with a teammate.  A foul called on Carter was upgraded to a “Flagrant One” after league review, which was small consolation. When a sports reporter asked about this right after the game, Carter curtly responded, “I ain’t answering any Caitlin Clark questions.”

The motivation for this behavior is awkward to assess or generalize.  It’s a unique circumstance and more complicated than just competitiveness and typical treatment of a rookie.  Some commentators have opined it’s because Caitlin stands out as a straight white woman from Iowa in a league with a decidedly different culture.  It’s no secret that numerous WNBA players are openly lesbian.  But that doesn’t mean they hate their heterosexual colleagues.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida reports that 73% of WNBA players are black, and only 20% are white.  Might some WNBA black players hate whites?  Perhaps.  But black and white WNBA players seem to have gotten along pretty well before Caitlin. 76% of NBA players are black, 19% white and they get along.

So, why are there so many more black players than white ones in both leagues?  No, it’s not anti-white discrimination.  It’s because blacks account for a higher percentage of elite players based on their skill —regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

A better explanation may be jealousy over Caitlin’s acclaim and compensation.  While the WNBA union’s collective bargaining agreement dictates that she’s paid no more than the base salary of $76,535, she also has a $28 million shoe contract with Nike, with more endorsements to come. Others in the WNBA have endorsement contracts, but not like that.

The NBA is big business and earns billions selling broadcast rights to networks that reach hundreds of millions worldwide. Viewers in China love the NBA as do Nikola Jokic fans in Serbia. Individual teams sell local broadcast rights, and tickets, merchandise and refreshments to fans in packed arenas.  The NBA has 30 teams, the WNBA, 12. NBA average game attendance is 18,300, the WNBA is 6,600, plus its ticket prices are much lower, and its TV audience is very small.

The quality of women’s sports has greatly improved.  But in major sports like basketball, football, baseball, and hockey, it’s not comparable to the men. Men watch sports more than women do and prefer to watch men’s sports — and not because they hate women.

The WNBA has never shown a profit. It was founded in 1996 as an NBA public relations gesture to show a commitment to women’s pro basketball.  The NBA owns 50% of the WNBA and subsidizes it with $15 million a year to keep it afloat.  NBA revenue this year will be about $11 billion.  Pre-Caitlin, the WNBA’s was under $200 million, which is why their maximum player salary is capped at only $242,984. That’s not discrimination; it’s just economics.

Caitlin Clark can be the WNBA’s financial MVP filling seats, spiking TV ratings, raising revenues and player salaries in the process.  That’s if bigoted or petty players don’t cripple her first.  Don’t they get that?

Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for


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