"Lost opportunity": Unpacking the backlash to Caitlin Clark not being picked for the Olympic team

The all-star rookie won't be competing in Paris, a decision some deem as "short-sighted"

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published June 13, 2024 10:00AM (EDT)

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever controls the ball during the game against the New York Liberty on June 2, 2024 at the Barclayys Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever controls the ball during the game against the New York Liberty on June 2, 2024 at the Barclayys Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

No. 1 WNBA draft pick and current all-star Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark departed from collegiate athletics this past spring with a sparkling legacy. During her time on the University of Iowa's Division I women's basketball team, Clark cemented herself as one of the all-time greats in NCAA history, garnering the most points, the highest-scoring average, most national scoring titles, most 3-pointers in a season and career respectively, and more.

Given the standout point guard's consistently stellar performances, her being left off the roster for the 2024 U.S. women's Olympic basketball team stoked a bevy of swift and considerable responses.

But it wasn't merely Clark's statistical successes on the court that left fans, players and commentators alike expressing dismay and disapproval at the decision — many argued that Clark's absence would create collateral damage for women's basketball more broadly, figuratively (and potentially literally) undoing gains that her powerhouse presence made for the WNBA. 

In May, the WNBA saw more than 400,000 fans pack stadiums, per NPR. More than half the games were sellouts, making it the highest-attended month for the league in more than 20 years. The league reported that merchandise sales soared to 236% year-to-year. The final game of the NCAA March Madness women's basketball tournament between The University of South Carolina's Gamecocks and Iowa's Hawkeyes averaged about 18.7 million viewers, peaking at a combined 24 million in the final 15 minutes. This marked the first time in history that the women's title game beat out the men's championship game for viewership.

Much of this surge in interest and revenue — which NPR reported to be the highest since the WNBA was first introduced in the late 1990s — can be directly attributed to dynamo rookies like Clark and Angel Reese of the Chicago Sky. 

Online, many social media users have expressed overt frustration. One X/Twitter user wrote, "The only good thing that may come out of the Team USA Olympics committee excluding Caitlin Clark from Team USA is fans may never again have to listen to whiny WNBA veterans complain about their low salaries and lack of visibility for the league because they collectively blew a golden opportunity by not including Clark on Team USA for the Summer Olympics."

"Rant incoming," tweeted Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy alongside a video clip sharing his thoughts. "Leaving Caitlin Clark off the women's Olympic team is the dumbest s**t I've ever heard."

Another X/Twitter user argued, "You wanna grow the game, put arguably your most popular player rn on the Olympic stage. Like DUH."

Linda Cohn, an ESPN Sports anchor based in Los Angeles, responded to a tweet noting how a recent game between The Indiana Fever and the Washington Mystics was shifted from the Mystics' typical arena — which accommodates 4,200 — to 20,3565 seat Capitol One Arena, with tickets selling out in half an hour. 

"Yet Caitlin Clark is not selected to the Team USA Women’s Basketball team heading to Paris for the Olympics?!?!" Cohn wrote. "All she does is grow the game, pack arenas, and set rookie records. What a short-sighted decision. Lost opportunity."

Some social media users even claimed that Clark's attendance at the Olympics would be one of the few reasons they'd tune into the Games this summer.

"I don’t know enough about USA women’s Olympic basketball to know if Caitlin Clark’s omission is a snub," wrote one X/Twitter user. "I do know that, right now, she would be the only reason I would remotely care about USA women’s Olympic basketball."

Despite public blowback around the decision, Clark was personally candid in vocalizing her support for the 2024 Paris squad, stating at a recent Indiana Fever practice that she hopes to join the all-star group for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. "I think it just gives you something to work for," Clark said to the press, per ABC. "It's a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there. I think it's just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

"I'm excited for the girls that are on the team," she added. "I know it's the most competitive team in the world, and I know it could have gone either way of me being on the team or me not being on the team. I'm excited for them. Going to be rooting them on to win gold. I was a kid that grew up watching the Olympics. It'll be fun to watch them."

And while much public opinion skews heavily in favor of Clark's should-have-been participation in Paris this summer, others have firmly argued that the newly minted pro must first pay her dues before foraying into the Olympic arena. 

9News sports reporter Arielle Orsuto claims on X/Twitter that Clark's snub was generating "fake outrage from people who just started watching women’s basketball this year."

"The (historically undefeated) US Women’s Olympic basketball team will be just fine without Caitlin Clark, and she will be just fine waiting another 4 years for her turn," she added.

"Why are we debating Caitlin Clark being on the Olympic team!?!" another X/Twitter user asked. "She . . . just became a pro and has played . . . 12 games. Please give it a rest."

Speaking to USA Today about Clark's omission, Phoenix Suns guard Diana Taurasi spoke about the "different dance you have to learn" as an evolving player pivoting to consistently more prominent leagues. 

"The game of basketball is all about evolving. It's all about getting comfortable with your surroundings," Taurasi, who is returning to the Olympics for a record sixth time this summer said. "College basketball is much different than the WNBA than it is overseas. Each one almost is like a different dance you have to learn. And once you learn the steps and the rhythm and you have a skill set that is superior to everyone else, everything else will fall into place."

Selection committee chair of USA Basketball Jen Rizzotti revealed to the Associated Press in an interview that tenure was a key component in creating the 12-woman Olympic roster, making clear how the organization was careful not to kowtow to public pressure or mistakenly conflate popularity with experience.

“Here’s the basketball criteria that we were given as a committee and how do we evaluate our players based on that?” Rizzotti told the outlet. “And when you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they checked a lot more boxes. Then sometimes it comes down to position, style of play for Cheryl (Reeve) and then sometimes a vote.

“It would be irresponsible for us to talk about her [Clark] in a way other than how she would impact the play of the team,” Rizzotti added. “Because it wasn’t the purview of our committee to decide how many people would watch or how many people would root for the U.S. It was our purview to create the best team we could for Cheryl.”

“She’s certainly going to continue to get better and better,” said USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley. “Really hope that she’s a big part of our future going forward.”

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Analysis Angel Reese Basketball Caitlin Clark Indiana Fever Olympics Sports University Of Iowa Wnba