The Connecticut Sun and Indiana Fever tip-off to start the game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

I recently played pickup basketball for the first time in years.

After rolling my ankles multiple times over the past few decades, I delved into other, less strenuous, activities. But when a new friend asked me if I was interested in playing some casual co-ed pickup, I figured, why not?

The basketball part was fun. It was an interaction beforehand that gave me pause.

As we were shooting around and warming up, one of the guys started talking about Caitlin Clark. And he made it no secret that he had never even given women’s basketball a second thought before she came along. She is also the reason why he has started watching the WNBA.

Which, great. I’m all for it. I was about to ask him some follow-up questions when the tone of his voice quickly told me where this conversation was headed.

“Why is everyone hating on Caitlin? Why are they all taking dirty shots at her?”

I sighed. Heavily. 

I had already heard this same sentiment regurgitated countless times over the past two weeks thanks to a narrative that has been peddled widely on social media via posts, video clips, and podcast snippets by everyone from sports commentators to current and past NBA players with large followings to individual rabid Clark fans. I had even written about it before the season started when people were up in arms about Diana Taurasi’s rookie comment.

I was not in the mood. And that was before he added, “No one cared about the WNBA before Clark came along.”

That’s when I lost my cool.

As someone who has covered this league and its players for almost a decade, I felt personally attacked. To be honest, it’s a big part of the reason why other journalists, writers, and content creators have felt the same way. We cared. We put in the time and effort to help grow the league. We witnessed an already dedicated fanbase that not only cared but was heavily invested in growing and evolving alongside this league. Maybe new fans, particularly those who love Clark, didn’t care. 

Did Clark bring in a whole set of new eyes and interest and growth and advertising, oh hell yeah. It’s been a tidal wave of attention. But people seem to forget that the ocean had to be there in the first place for the wave to form.

I bit back at the guy in a not-so-friendly way. He was taken aback. Ironically, when we picked teams, he became my two-on-two partner. We moved on to playing basketball. 

Let me jump back a minute.

Before I went to the park that morning, I saw Austin Rivers’ video clip circulating. That was the shot. The chaser was Mike Florio’s column on Clark. Neither individual has a women’s basketball background, nor had they ever covered the players or the league. Yet they decided to weigh in on the debate surrounding Chennedy Carter’s overly aggressive, hip check (now flagrant) foul on Clark as she had her back turned while waiting for an inbound pass (And just so we’re clear, it was indeed a flagrant foul).

In a since-deleted post on X, I blurted out, “If you’re getting your WNBA takes and information from Austin River, an NFL writer, or Sports Dudes With Podcasts, I will gladly point you in a better direction.” 

It was part humor, part frustration, and part can-we-please-stop-fanning-the-flames-for-views-and-clicks. Quickly, replies indicated I was inferring that anyone who doesn’t cover the WNBA can’t talk about it or have an opinion. I can easily see how it had come across that way. Instead of engaging or going back and forth over X in an endless thread of comments to try and explain myself further, I deleted the post. 

What I should have articulated in the first place, rather than try to spout off a clever subtweet, is how so much context seems to be missing in WNBA coverage or commentary. It’s maddening. 

As my friend Morgan Murphy aptly put it, “If rational thought and ‘celebration of what’s great’ and nuanced response to incidents on a case by case basis got more attention than amplifying the toxic shit, we wouldn’t get to have a new daily war of outrage every day for what… a decade? Experts lose the mic. First-hand accounts lose to gossip or self-serving trolling. The most harmful narratives are also the easiest to create.”

And that’s exactly my point and frustration. Individuals who have never covered the WNBA before, don’t have the history to help provide context, don’t know the storylines or the players, but have large platforms and the loudest voices, are helping to fan the flames, whether knowingly or unknowingly. It’s unproductive and does nothing to move the conversation forward.

I comment on other sports from time to time, but I tend to stay out of discussions where I don’t have the proper context. I wrote an entire book on the National Women’s Football League from the 1970s, but not without doing countless hours of research and interviewing former players and key personnel beforehand.

By all means, have a take. Write a column. But at least take the time to be informed and balanced, especially if you are new to the league. Otherwise, it feels like an attention grab, a way to cash in on clicks and views on the back of Clark’s name while taking a metaphorical swipe at the WNBA and the players who have built the league. 

I get it. Clark moves the needle. Writing about her, talking about her, weighing in on any debate surrounding her, drives traffic. In an age where pageviews tend to outrank the value of balanced coverage and solid journalism, media companies have had to adjust. But the scale has tipped so much farther in the opposite direction that actual coverage is falling by the wayside. And the framing of some of it — the misogyny, sexism, racist undertones — gives me the ick.  The more outrageous it seems, the better. 

After the pickup game, I sat down next to my new teammate and followed up on our previous conversation. I realized this guy was listening and reading things that helped form his overall impression of the W. Why would he think any differently? Through our face-to-face conversation, we understood each other’s side. I wish I had done that initially.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing doesn’t happen on social media. It can’t. And that’s part of the problem. Quick video hits and 240 characters of an opinion don’t lend themselves to larger and more nuanced conversations. Sports or otherwise. It is what it is.

After a year of clamoring for it to happen, the WNBA is finally in the spotlight. For better or worse. After all, it’s what we wanted, right?

About Lyndsey D'Arcangelo

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a seasoned sports writer, author and women’s sports advocate. She previously wrote about women’s basketball for The Athletic and is the co-author of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.