Women's National Basketball Association
What Chennedy Carter's hard foul on Caitlin Clark says about the WNBA
Women's National Basketball Association

What Chennedy Carter's hard foul on Caitlin Clark says about the WNBA

Updated Jun. 3, 2024 9:14 p.m. ET

WNBA rookie Caitlin Clark was again in the news over the weekend.

Her Indiana Fever recorded their first home win of the season, beating the Chicago Sky and Clark's former college rival Angel Reese. But the main story coming out of the game was not Indiana's victory, but rather the hard foul that Sky guard Chennedy Carter committed against Clark before a late-game inbounds play.

The foul, in which Carter body-slammed Clark to the ground to the seeming delight of Reese on the bench, was retroactively ruled a Flagrant 1 by the WNBA. Additionally, the league fined both the Sky and Reese for breaking the league's media availability policy after the game. Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon later said Carter's foul was "not appropriate."

Carter's foul against Clark was the latest and most striking in what appears to be a trend of physical play against Clark. Meanwhile, the Fever have gotten off to a bumpy start in her much-anticipated rookie season. That topic was the talk of the sports world Monday, and several prominent FS1 personalities weighed in.


Here's what they had to say.

Colin Cowherd: Clark doesn't need fans, media to protect her

On Tuesday's edition of "The Herd," Cowherd said he did not see much difference between how Clark is being treated in her first WNBA season and how other athletes have been similarly treated in the past.

"Now, everybody's freaking out because she's getting nudged here, hard-fouled there, hitting the floor there," Cowherd said. "'Where is the protection?' Oh, boy. Once again, the media and fans are protecting somebody that doesn't need protecting. When Toni Kukoc came from Europe to play with the Chicago Bulls, this is what [Michael Jordan] and Scottie Pippen did to their own teammate in practice. Sports is tribal. It's intimidating. It's physical, and it's prove-it. Those that aren't tough don't make it. [Clark] is [tough]."

Cowherd said that Carter, a role player on her third team in four seasons, is similar to NBA guard Patrick Beverley — a hard-nosed role player whose tough, feisty style of play can rub people the wrong way.

"She is there to provoke," Cowherd said of Carter. "The NHL, the NBA, they've always had enforcers. They don't always have to be the biggest player on the floor, they've got to be scrappy and defiant, sometimes bordering on unfair, physical, inappropriate. That's all that happened."

The only issue Cowherd had was that Clark's Fever teammates did not retaliate in her defense, and that the WNBA has packed the Fever's schedule with 11 games over 20 days, while the veteran-heavy defending champion Las Vegas Aces have played just six games over that span. That included a back-to-back last weekend that ended in a 104-68 drubbing on the road at the hands of the New York Liberty on Sunday. The Fever are now 2-9 on the season.

Still, Cowherd said, Carter's actions do not warrant the "freak out" that he has been seeing. Rather, it's just evidence that the WNBA is on an upward trajectory.

"This is actually kind of like the NBA," Cowherd said. "Draymond Green, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, the enforcers — who do they pick on, the bench guy? No, they go pick on the star. … This is the growth of the WNBA.

"The ultimate respect isn't pandering and placating to women's basketball. It's accepting that sometimes it's physical, tribal, intimidating and uncomfortable. That's the best kind of basketball — men or women."

Caitlin Clark is built for the WNBA and its physicality | The Herd

Nick Wright: Clark's revenge tour is coming

On Tuesday's "First Things First," Wright agreed with many of Cowherd's points. The biggest gripe he had was not with Carter or any other WNBA player, but rather with how the league front-loaded the Fever's schedule, adding to the physical wear and tear on Clark and her teammates.

"I do think, oddly, this is going to lead to late-season Caitlin Clark being excellent," Wright said. "They don't have another back-to-back the rest of the way."

Clark's on-court treatment, Wright said, has to do with a combination of rookie hazing, jealousy, and some racial animus.

"This is an overwhelmingly black league whose stars have always been a little disproportionally white," Wright said. "I think there is some real anxiety about another white player being pushed to the forefront. As it happens, though, a lot of the greatest women's players of all time are [white] — not some ‘great white hope’ thing, but Diana Taurasi is unbelievable. Sabrina Ionescu. Sue Bird. That's just how it happened."

While he believes there are "a lot of layers" to Clark's treatment, Wright also said it's not the media's role to defend her.

"I think she is a trash-talking badass that is a little worn down, a little beat up, and is going to bounce back," Wright said. "I don't feel badly for Caitlin Clark. I think that the revenge tour will be great. I think it will come. It seems almost patronizing to her at times, some of the commentary about ‘protecting’ her." 

Chris Broussard: Michael Jordan and LeBron James were once resented, too

"This is just rookie hazing," Broussard said on "First Things First." "When you are a hot-shot rookie — and she hasn't dominated the league, obviously, but she's putting up great numbers for a rookie — but Jordan came in averaging 28 points, and people were physical with him. We know he got ‘iced out’ at the [1985] NBA All-Star Game. The WNBA just looks more physical than the NBA at this point."

Broussard did take umbrage with Aliyah Boston, the teammate nearest to her when the foul took place, for not confronting Carter, saying he wonders if there is resentment toward Clark within the Fever's own locker room. 

With prompting from Wright, Broussard said the treatment of Clark also reminds him a bit of how veterans on the 2003 Cleveland Cavaliers downplayed LeBron James when the Cavs won the right to select the then-high school prodigy in that year's NBA Draft lottery.

"But ultimately," Broussard said, "This is great for the [WNBA]. People are gonna tune in just for these storylines."

Joy Taylor: Carter's dirty play should be separated from the other Clark storylines

Taylor claimed that the nature of Carter's foul, her refusal to answer questions about it after the game, and her negative comments about Clark on social media afterward constituted an isolated incident in which Carter was "sending a message" about how she feels about Clark, rather than a reflection on the WNBA and its treatment of Clark as a whole.

"I think the conversation overall about Caitlin Clark, and the reaction we're seeing from a lot of people, has become a bit toxic," Taylor said. "I think this incident is getting mushed in with how people have been playing defense on Caitlin Clark, how physical they've been. Some of the comments some of the greats in the WNBA before Caitlin Clark [was drafted.] It's all kind of getting put into this pot of ‘Caitlin Clark hate,’ and I think it's more nuanced than that.

"I think there are a lot of things that have been happening with Caitlin Clark and the start of her career that are very normal to a lot of sports. You often see players who are in a league or players who have played before or greats have opinions about new, rising stars in the league. That is not uncommon. That is not exclusive to women's sports … You often see rookies get played very tough, get a little message shown to them, especially if they're coming into a league with a lot of hype. That also is not new."

The difference with Clark, Taylor said, is not the treatment she's getting. It's the status she holds in women's basketball after a record-breaking college career at Iowa.

"We are seeing a transcendent, crossover superstar come into the league and have a huge amount of buzz, of polarization, of excitement," Taylor said. "It is translating in numbers, it is translating in ticket sales, it is translating in conversation. And overall, I think that's a good thing. I don't think what Chennedy did is a reflection of how the entirety of the league feels. I don't think it's a reflection of how all female athletes feel."

Taylor said that while she does notice extra energy directed at Clark during her games, she chalks it up to competitive basketball.

LeSean McCoy: The WNBA needs to protect Clark like the NBA protected Jordan

Isolated or not, McCoy sees Carter's actions towards Clark both on the court and on social media afterward as hate, not competitive basketball.

"If I'm playing football, and someone's doing something dirty to the quarterback, and then I look to the sidelines where the team's at, and they're clapping, you can see there's conversations of hate going on," McCoy said.

But given Clark's status, McCoy said, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert needs to take similar action to how former NBA commissioner David Stern took steps to protect Michael Jordan.

"The commissioner needs to step in there and say, ‘Y’all are not about to mess up the biggest thing that's bringing all this awareness to our game,'" McCoy said, comparing Jordan's impact on NBA player salaries and merchandise deals to what Clark can do for WNBA players. "They're hating on the wrong person."

Does the WNBA need to protect Caitlin Clark more? | Speak

Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy and James Jones react to the Caitlin Clark-Chennedy Carter incident, then debate whether the WNBA needs to protect the Indiana Fever star more.

Emmanuel Acho: Proof some WNBA players have envy towards Clark

Acho said he would be surprised if players were not jealous of Clark given her status in the sport as a rookie. But he also believes those players who are jealous need to let Clark face the spotlight herself instead of trying to trying to gain notoriety by doing what Carter did.

"Don't be envious of Caitlin Clark, let her take the brunt of the blows as the pacemaker," Acho said. "She has to do more interviews than y'all, sucks for her. She had to play 11 games in 20 days, sucks for her. She has to do postgame press conferences, sucks for her. She has to do post-practice press conferences, sucks for her. What Caitlin Clark is doing is taking the brunt of the burden so that everyone else can succeed at a higher level. A rising tide floats all boats.

"So what I'm simply suggesting for the WNBA players is, don't be envious of Caitlin Clark, let her do all the dirty work so you, too, can succeed."

Tim Hardaway Sr.: Clark's teammates need to step up

The former NBA player said that regardless of any personal feelings Clark's teammates may have towards her, in the course of the game they should always look to defend her.

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