(Todd A. Smith)

The phenomenon surrounding Indiana Fever rookie point guard Caitlin Clark is nothing new in the world of sports.

Whenever something new hits the sports arena, it brings more eyeballs, more news coverage and more hatred.

Yes, many established WNBA players are treating Clark more harshly because of racial hatred and jealousy and that cannot lead to dirty fouls and bush-league play.

But that treatment is no different than the hate and jealousy that athletes of color like Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Venus Williams received when they took over their respective sports.

Infamously, the late golfer Fuzzy Zoeller made racist comments about Woods when the young star broke racial barriers with his 1997 win at the Masters.

And just like those aforementioned athletes like Woods, Clark is strong enough to deal with the vitriol and talented enough to thrive, in due time, despite the naysayers.

In the field of sports and entertainment, there is a saying that all publicity is good publicity.

Throughout Clark’s rookie season, thus far, she has struggled with the physicality and athleticism of the WNBA game and mainstream media and social media have gone berserk over it.

Unfortunately, she has also taken some cheap shots and has not had much protection from her Indiana Fever teammates and that too has created a buzz on social media and mainstream television networks.

Many have inserted the racial component into the equation, and they are probably correct.

The WNBA has been in existence since 1997.

And a good percentage of the stars have been Black.

Despite the enormous talent in the league, the television ratings and arena attendance has been less than one would expect for a league with so much talent.

So, when a White American player with a special style of play that reminds many of Stephen Curry comes in from a state like Iowa and all sudden more people want to tune in, it is probably insulting to the women who have already proven themselves in the league.

But the Clark effect or impact is nothing new to sports.

As much as Americans lie to themselves about being colorblind, people often gravitate towards people that they can relate to.

More Black people probably watched golf when Woods began dominating the predominantly White sport of golf.

More Black girls, like current start Coco Gauff, probably gravitated towards tennis after watching the success of the Williams sisters.

And many Black people probably tuned into hockey when P.K. Subban, with all the swagger of a NBA player, began putting in work in the NHL.

More White people probably began paying attention to hip-hop when Eminem started dominating the charts in the late 1990s.

And more Black people probably began listening to country when Beyoncé dropped her “Country Carter” album, which also shined the light on young Black country artists like Shaboozey who is tearing up the charts with his new album.

And just like Clark, all those Black stars endured racism and hatred for invading spaces previously dominated by people of another hue.

When Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he experienced racism from teammates, opponents and the press.

Robinson constantly received hate mail.

Likewise, when Hank Aaron started closing in on Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record, he had to have armed protection, on and off the baseball diamond.

When Jack Johnson knocked out White opponents in the boxing ring, White people retaliated by lynching random Black people who had nothing to do with the fight.

When Bill Russell starred for the Boston Celtics, he endured constant racism to the point of racist White people breaking into his home and spreading feces all over the place.

Russell famously would say that he played for the Celtics, not for Boston.

And despite Russell winning so many championships for the Celtics, 11 to be exact, it seems that the majority of Boston did not become interested in the Celtics again, save for the Dave Cowens and JoJo White teams, until Red Auerbach added White stars like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and the late, great Bill Walton in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I do not recall Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell and Nate “Tiny” Archibald receiving the same type of love from the Celtics faithful as Ainge and Walton.

Likewise, I remember some friends of mine (who happen to be Black) from Dallas, complaining about the Mavericks from years ago with Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash having too many White boys on the team.

And as a Houston Rockets fan, I can vividly remember the Asian community rallying behind Yao Ming, and later Jeremy Lin.

Yao jersey sales went through the roof.

When Harrison Butker made ultra-conservative points of view at a commencement ceremony, his jersey sales went through the roof like it did for Colin Kaepernick when he spoke out against police brutality and systemic racism.

Former University of Missouri star Michael Sam saw his St. Louis Rams jersey sale out in stores when he became the first openly gay football player drafted in the NFL and he never played in a real NFL game.

Therefore, every race has played the race card, especially when it comes to sports.

Furthermore, just as many people play the politics card or the sexual identity card too when they support specific athletes and sports.

Unfortunately, when other people see progress, haters see themselves losing their place on the totem pole.

As a result, all the groups and athletes mentioned above dealt with some form of hate for breaking through certain glass ceilings in sports.

I can vividly remember leaders from Houston’s Asian community vehemently protesting when the Los Angeles Lakers came to town during Yao’s rookie season because of racist comments made by Shaquille O’Neal.

And despite that controversy (and maybe in part because of it), that Rockets game versus the Lakers probably scored huge television ratings for whatever network it was on during that 2002-03 NBA season.

Yes, the WNBA players should not try to hurt Clark, especially since they will ultimately see their bank accounts increase thanks to the attention she has brought to the sport.

And while racism and other forms of bigotry should never be accepted, people should not pretend that Clark is the first athlete to face this unfair treatment from people who do not want progress.

Todd A. Smith
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