Feeling some kind of way about Caitlin Clark and WNBA discrepancies? Consider the source.

OPINION: The WNBA’s newest star enjoys outsized prominence in a mostly Black space through no fault of her own. 

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The saying “don’t hate the player, hate the game” has some merit, specifically the second half. There’s no arguing that the American system is rigged and worthy to be loathed, historically and often currently telling us to get back simply because we’re Black.

But there’s no automatic blanket approval for the saying’s first segment. Some “players” are totally reckless in how they roll, wilding out against their skinfolk and other folks. There’s no love here for those who lie, steal and kill to get ahead, while the rest of us do our best within the jacked-up rules.

So I completely agree if former Iowa star Caitlin Clark says don’t hate her. 

All she’s really done is ball the hell out 

If you gotta curse something, let ‘er rip on the system that’s simultaneously lifting Clark and hitching a ride. Now she’s headed to the WNBA, where roughly 70% of the players are Black but none are bigger stars. Clark’s magnetism has carried over to the pros, bringing new attention to decades-old disparities that are baked in the American pie but typically downplayed by the mainstream. 

For instance, as the WNBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick, Clark signed with Indiana for a first-year salary of $76,000. By comparison, the No. 1 NBA pick last year, San Antonio’s Victor Wembanyama, signed for $12.2 million in his rookie season. The discrepancy drew rebukes from all corners, including the White House, NFL quarterbacks and NBC’s “Today” show.

Funny how I don’t recall similar outrage when Black players like Aliyah Boston (Indiana) and Rhyne Howard (Atlanta) were picked first in the 2023 and 2022 drafts, respectively. I guess the pay was OK for them but not Clark.

However, it’s not Clark’s fault that no one raised the matter beforehand, and she’s certainly not to blame for the imbalance. 

The Pew Research Center reports that the nation’s gender pay gap has remained relatively stable over the last 20 years, with women earning 82% of what men earn on average. And that’s before we add race to the equation, with Black workers — surprise! — still earning less than their white counterparts.


Black WNBA players don’t endure the same discrepancies that Black women face in corporate America, where sisters are routinely paid less for doing the same work as others. The WNBA’s salaries are collectively bargained and Clark earns no more than draft picks Nos. 2-4, Cameron Brink, Kamilla Cardosa and Rickea Jackson. 

But critics look at the sport’s soaring popularity — Clark played in the four most-viewed women’s college basketball games of all-time while the WNBA just enjoyed its most-viewed season in more than a decade — and then make an intellectually dishonest argument. They gripe about “equal pay” in comparison to men’s basketball. 

Please be real. That sounds like a great idea until you look at the numbers and realize the NBA brings in around $10 billion annually, just a shade above the WNBA’s $200 million. At least 12 NBA players have contracts worth more than the WNBA’s yearly revenue. The women need tons more financial support to reap the same financial rewards.

The other bone of contention with Clark’s rapid come-up is the nature of capitalism and commercialism, the old free-market two-step that favors light-bright if not damn white. 

Companies have anointed Clark as “The Face,’ with State Farm, Gatorade, Buick and H&R Block among those making direct deposits in her account. That doesn’t include Nike, which reportedly is giving her a signature shoe as part of an eight-year, $28 million deal. In a league that’s 70% Black, she becomes the fourth consecutive white player to land a signature shoe from Nike. 

Meanwhile, two-time WNBA champion and reigning Finals MVP A’ja Wilson doesn’t have a shoe despite her lengthy receipts. Naturally, we’re gonna cape for Wilson, but that doesn’t mean Clark is unworthy. She’s clearly changed the game and only fools deny that.

I understand if you instinctively feel some kinda way about Clark’s prominence in a mostly Black space. But we don’t want to retreat to our side of the divide and say some dumb shit like Dennis Rodman said in 1987, claiming Larry Bird would be considered average if he were Black.

Two things can be true at the same time. There are white players who get more hype and commercials based on their pigment. And there are white players who can ball with the crème de la crème. Don’t hold the former against the latter.

I ain’t mad at Clark. My beef is always with the systemic barriers and obstacles placed in our way. They mostly disappear in athletic competition, one of the best things about sports. Clark wears a bullseye for players of all stripes, who plan to use her shine to their advantage. 

It’s OK to “hate” an athlete once the action starts and you root for their opponent. Just like it’s OK to root for an athlete who isn’t a fan favorite. Dramas love a good villain. Just remember to direct your real ire toward the rule makers, not the subjects enduring them like everyone else.

Hate the game if you must. I like Clark.

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron.

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