Iowa Fan Caitlin Clark Credit: Hawkeye Hunz

Basketball Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes tried to cut down Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark last week as the Hawkeyes star pushes for the all-time NCAA scoring record, and this week Iowa fans responded.

Swoops’ erroneous criticism of the fan favorite Clark led Iowa fans to press t-shirts with the phrase “Don’t be a Sheryl.” on the front.

Swoopes initially opined that Clark would not maintain the same level of production and dominance when she turns pro this spring, but then her take took a turn toward delusion. Swoopes exaggerated how many years Clark had been in college (just four so far), using extra years of eligibility due to COVID-19 as an explanation for why Clark’s chase was illegitimate. Altogether, it was a poorly researched hit job against one of the more popular college athletes in a long time.

Still, Swoopes is a legend. She is a media professional. It’s understandable to call her out where she’s wrong, but Iowa fans turning her into an enemy provoked some strong reaction around women’s basketball, including from reigning WNBA Finals MVP A’ja Wilson.

Since her rise to prominence, Clark’s popularity and rivalries with Black college hoopers has generated extensive discussion about race in sports. Last year, even FS1 host Skip Bayless called out First Lady Jill Biden for “naive reverse white racism” when she offered to host Clark and her Iowa teammates at the White House following their loss in the national championship game.

In recent days as Clark nears the scoring record, many in right-wing media have joined the debate. Needless to say, Clark’s dominance (and likely where she goes to school) have inflamed a conversation about which athletes are popular and why.

But the Iowa fans’ t-shirts make a not-so-subtle reference to being a “Karen,” or a hostile white woman. Considering the maker of the shirt is white and Iowa City is a largely white community, maybe it’s not a huge leap to make this about race as well. After all, the origins of the phrase “Karen” are also based in racial identity.

It may not have been Swoopes’ goal to reaggravate these tensions (and hopefully not her goal to misstate facts). It may not have been the Iowa fans’ goal to double down on the racialized nature of the conversation around Clark. But as is so often the case in the U.S. in the 2020s, that’s exactly where we’re headed.

[Hawkeye Hunz on X]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.