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Caitlin Clark Rejects Hype of “Great White Hope”

The term “March Madness” previously referred to the NCAA’s men’s college championship tournament and often failed to acknowledge the women’s games. However, for the very first time in history, March Madness was all about the women. The new excitement and interest have evolved around the skilled women who now take to the arena floors and deliver games that can keep fans sitting at the tip of their chairs. This change can be attributed to one sharp-shooting basketball player, Caitlan Clark. With her extraordinary talent, she has caught the entire country's attention, and unfortunately, a segment of those admirers look upon her as the “Great White Hope.” Historically, in this country, there has always been that segment of the white world that struggled with the exceptionally gifted talent of the Black athlete and was always in search of one of their kind to prove their superiority in the various fields of athletics. Much of that obsession began when the white world furiously sought a boxer who could beat Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight champion. It continued right up and through the domination of Muhammad Ali. That particular segment of the white world practically went into a frenzy when Ali proclaimed, “I am the greatest.” The most blatant example of this search occurred on the basketball courts. When UCLA superstar Bill Walton was the number one draft of the Portland Trailblazers in 1974, the seekers of a “Great White Hope” attempted to pit him against the domination of Black players in …

The term “March Madness” previously referred to the NCAA’s men’s college championship tournament and often failed to acknowledge the women’s games. However, for the very first time in history, March Madness was all about the women. The new excitement and interest have evolved around the skilled women who now take to the arena floors and deliver games that can keep fans sitting at the tip of their chairs. This change can be attributed to one sharp-shooting basketball player, Caitlan Clark. With her extraordinary talent, she has caught the entire country’s attention, and unfortunately, a segment of those admirers look upon her as the “Great White Hope.”

Historically, in this country, there has always been that segment of the white world that struggled with the exceptionally gifted talent of the Black athlete and was always in search of one of their kind to prove their superiority in the various fields of athletics. Much of that obsession began when the white world furiously sought a boxer who could beat Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight champion. It continued right up and through the domination of Muhammad Ali. That particular segment of the white world practically went into a frenzy when Ali proclaimed, “I am the greatest.”

The most blatant example of this search occurred on the basketball courts. When UCLA superstar Bill Walton was the number one draft of the Portland Trailblazers in 1974, the seekers of a “Great White Hope” attempted to pit him against the domination of Black players in the game. In an interview, Walton ended that attempt by rejecting that comparison. Walton let it be known that he would not allow the “Great White Hope” crowd to make his job any more difficult than it would be against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other dominant Black centers in the game. 

In today’s contemporary basketball world, Caitlin Clark has become the hero of that white segment, always in search of the “Great White Hope.” However, just like the many outstanding white athletes of the past, her inclination is to say no to that designation. In her interview on Saturday Night Live, she praised many Black players who have opened the door for her and others. She said, “Thanks to all the great players like Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, the great Dawn Staley, and my basketball hero, Maya Moore… They are the women that kicked down the door so I could walk inside.” 

Her acknowledgment of these specific players, all who are Black, Clark was sending a message to those who want to claim her as their “Great White Hope” that would not happen. Just like Bill Walton, 50 years earlier, she was telling that crowd she would not allow them to make her job that much tougher as she moves into a new career in the pros.

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