Indiana Fever star rookie Caitlin Clark and IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel. Indy Star columnist Gregg Doyel was at the center of controversy after his inappropriate question at Caitlin Clark’s introductory press conference with the Indiana Fever.

Dear Gregg Doyel,

I’ll begin by agreeing with you. Yes, you are a part of the problem–and women in sports are exhausted from putting up with behavior like yours. There have been far too many storylines around the sports and athletes that we love that revolve around men who insist on making things about them, rather than the incredible women in sports who deserve praise and recognition.

Of course, there’s your disastrous question to Caitlin Clark in which you flashed her the signature heart-emoji gesture that she displays for her family at games. When she recognized it, the conversation went like this:

Clark: You like that?

You: I like that you’re here.

Clark: Yeah, I do that at my family after every game.

You: Start doing it to me and we’ll get along just fine.

Yikes. To recap, with one exchange, you overshadowed Clark’s first professional press conference, tainting a sweet gesture she reserved for her family in the process, then followed it up with a column far more clumsy (your words) than your sexist exchange with her. Unfortunately, women in sports have been dealing with behavior like this for quite some time. 

Recently, OutKick reporter Dan Zaksheske posed a bad-faith question about trans athletes to Dawn Staley and Lisa Bluder ahead of their championship matchup instead of asking about one of the biggest moments in women’s basketball history. Folks who have been paying attention to women’s basketball far longer than that can remember Don Imus’s atrocious, racist, and sexist remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team in 2007 that aren’t worth repeating here. On the global stage, moments after Spain won the 2023 Women’s World Cup, former UEFA executive Luis Rubiales sexually assaulted forward Jenni Hermoso by kissing her without her consent on international television and then spent weeks pleading his innocence. The list goes on. 

Nobody is overreacting to the severity of your lack of professionalism. It was a reminder to women in sports everywhere of the kind of behavior we often have to put up with as we pursue our dream jobs. 

Any woman–inside and outside of the sports industry–who has experienced the same kind of inappropriate comments understands how such words infiltrate our consciousness, make our skin crawl, spike our anxiety, and rob us of sleep at night. Not to mention, women understand that what men say about us in public is only a preview of what they say about us behind closed doors. That you were so comfortable making Caitlin Clark clearly uncomfortable in front of her, her coworkers, the cameras, and your peers, is telling. 

In your ensuing column, you describe your interaction blithely as sigh, “awkward,” and “the most me thing ever,” as if sexual harassment is a casual blunder anyone is capable of. And make no mistake, what you said to Clark was, by definition, sexual harassment. 

Gregg, although you’ve done your best in your column and on X to frame yourself as well-meaning and oafish, it’s almost as disconcerting that Indy Star editors read your column, thought “looks great!” and published it for clicks. It is hard to believe this is the same newspaper that broke the Larry Nassar scandal.

As you’re surely aware, women’s basketball has experienced a surge of popularity. To your credit, though, your column provides a great opportunity to educate those who are navigating women’s sports media for the first time–and there will be plenty of these folks for years to come. As a former Division 1 athlete and freelance journalist who has been covering women’s sports for the past four years, I can assure you there is indeed plenty to learn.

Your column starts off fairly strong, admitting that you’re “a part of the problem” and that you “screwed up,” both true statements. However, the overall tone of your column doesn’t sit right with me or many of my colleagues in the women’s sports space. 

You discuss your exchange with Clark as if it were a simple, understandable goof-up, a mistake akin to a typo or forgetting a colleague’s name. Let’s get one thing straight–sexually harassing women cannot be explained away behind a mistake-prone personality. In the WNBA, a league that is dominated by queer women of color, trust from the media is paramount. That trust will be hard to win back.

However, Gregg, you had a defense–you write that you’re known for “having awkward conversations with people before asking brashly conversational questions,” before listing the male athletes and coaches you have allegedly had similar exchanges with. Conveniently, you don’t link any evidence of such conversations in your column, which led me to do some digging myself. 

I couldn’t find anything comparable to your conversation with Caitlin Clark. Maybe you were referring to something you said on a zoom call with Zach Edey where you were “struggling to separate fact from fiction” and (jokingly) wrote that Edey gave you the middle finger during said call. There was also the time you walked out of a press conference after not getting the answer you wanted from Jim Boeheim.

Perhaps you were referring to the offputting question you posed to Fever coach Christie Sides in the same press conference where you interviewed her newest star rookie: “You just got the keys to that [Caitlin Clark]. Now what are you going to do with it?” 

Last I checked, Caitlin Clark is a person, not a car. 

Caitlin Clark at a Indiana Fever press conference.
April 17, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark, former Iowa Hawkeye standout and the no. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft, speaks Wednesday, April 17, 2024, during an introductory press conference inside the entry pavilion at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Mykal McEldowney-USA TODAY NETWORK

You imply that you treated Clark like you would one of the boys–but have you ever flashed Frank Reich, Chuck Pagano, or Shane Steichen a heart gesture and weirdly implied that you wanted the same gesture in return from any of them? My guess is no, and you wouldn’t even think about it.

And that’s one of the problems with your apology column, Gregg– using your experience in men’s sports to somehow explain your Cailtin Clark debacle is a false equivalency. Sports media is set to explode with women’s sports content, which means that, while the bar is on the floor when it comes to respecting these women (as you prove), the learning curve for newcomers is nonetheless steep. 

You seem to understand this at some level, acknowledging in your column that “male and female athletes should be treated the same” in terms of “coverage, respect, compensation, terminology, you name it” and that you “need to be more aware about how [you] talk to people,” and these are good lessons to those who are covering women’s sports for the first time. Yes, it’s great that the sport is gaining more attention. Yes, it’s great that Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink, Angel Reese, and Kamilla Cardoso are household names. But there has to be a sense of humility and respect from sports media personalities who are learning about the sport for the first time.

Women athletes in general are a historically under-represented and under-resourced group (as you allude to in your column), and they deserve respect – like content that is sincere and actionable in response rather than pithy columns equating sexism to simple idiocy when that respect is breached. In the sports industry, there are real stakes here. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for every two women in sports, there are over seven men. World Athletics reports that in the 2021 Olympics, 60% of online harassment was aimed at female athletes. In 2020, the BBC reported that similar percentages of female athletes have dealt with varying degrees of sexism in their careers, but only 10% felt comfortable reporting it. Perhaps it’s because men in the industry are so comfortable dishing it out. The last thing female athletes need is experiencing it from the media who covers them.

In your column, Gregg, you wrote that you navigated the first two of the five stages of grief after your interaction with Clark went viral. While you process the final three, I have three steps sports media members like yourself should consider to learn from this experience.

1.) There’s no shortage of talented, experienced, and seasoned women in sports who are exceptionally qualified to cover female athletes with dignity, respect, and professionalism. Media outlets must hire (and pay) women to keep up with the incoming demand for more high-quality and professional women’s sports content and men in the industry must advocate for these brilliant writers, photographers, content creators, and marketing professionals.

2.) Additionally, it’s just as imperative for men who are covering women’s sports for the first time to put in the time themselves. Follow women’s media sports companies like the Women’s Sports Foundation, The Gist, espnW, GOALS, the Women’s Sports Network, TOGETHXR, Just Women’s Sports, HighlightHER, plus as many women’s leagues, coaches, and athletes you can find. Seek out women who cover women’s sports, and read and amplify their work, and put in the time to become more qualified to cover women’s sports, not just drop in to a press conference and try to make a name for yourself.

3.) Outlets must have standards of professionalism when it comes to women’s sports coverage. Members of the media must pay attention to what their colleagues are saying/doing and act accordingly. If that means not credentialing certain writers or outlets who have no interest in offering legitimate coverage of women’s sports or benching the big-name columnist, then so be it. Women’s sports is not a curiosity or a flavor of the month. It’s here to stay.

Gregg, you’ve said you’re sorry. Your next move is to prove that you mean it and help others educate themselves on how to professionally and authentically cover women’s sports. The ball is in your court.


An exhausted woman in sports

About Katie Lever

Dr. Katie Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current freelance sports writer whose work has appeared in Global Sport Matters, Sportico, Extra Points, Forbes, and other outlets. She is also the award-winning author of Surviving the Second Tier, a dystopian novel about the dark side of the college sports industry, available on Amazon. Follow Katie on Twitter and Instagram: @leverfever.