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Caitlin Clark’s record-breaking accomplishment demonstrates importance of recognizing female athletes

Photo courtesy of Flickr/ timweight
University of Iowa basketball player Caitlin Clark defends against a Penn State player during a game Feb. 5, 2023. Clark, who has played Division I basketball for three years, has broken multiple records during her collegiate career.

As a young female athlete, I grew up awaiting the NCAA Volleyball Championships and the women’s events in the Summer Olympics. Having female role models to inspire me was infinitely important to my experience growing up as an athlete. The same way my brother decorated his room with posters of his favorite Chelsea players, photos of volleyball players like Asjia Johnson were taped over my desk.

Having strong female athletes that I could look up to further propelled my love for sports. There are various female athletes whose accomplishments speak for themselves, therefore celebrating these accomplishments simply for what they are and not in comparison to men’s, is imperative to encouraging the next generation of girls in sports and also, to give women the recognition they deserve.

University of Iowa basketball player Caitlin Clark broke the men’s Division 1 scoring record March 3, establishing herself as the highest-scoring player in NCAA history with a career total of 3,685 points. This record, which was formerly set by Louisiana State University’s Pete Maravich in 1970, is just another addition to Clark’s plethora of athletic accomplishments.

Throughout her career at the University of Iowa, Clark has attained multiple achievements both within the realm of collegiate basketball and as a professional athlete. In the month of February alone, Clark broke multiple Division 1 records, including the NCAA women’s scoring record and the major-college women’s scoring record. However, despite Clark’s past achievements, her most recent accomplishment of breaking the NCAA men’s scoring record seems to have been what pushed her to finally get the recognition she deserves.

With over a million followers on Instagram, Clark has built a public name for herself as a basketball phenomenon. While Clark serves as a positive example of female athletes receiving well-deserved credit for their accomplishments, it continues a longstanding narrative of equating women’s value in comparison to men.

Despite the significant number of records Clark has set previously in her career, none have gained the same amount of media attention as her most recent claim to fame: becoming the highest-scoring Division 1 basketball player, for both men and women. While this attention is well-deserved, it also highlights the significant inadequacies of the sports community, which refuses to acknowledge the accomplishments of a female athlete until they’ve become successful in relation to men.

While this attention is well-deserved, it also highlights the significant inadequacies of the sports community, which refuses to acknowledge the accomplishments of a female athlete until they’ve become successful in relation to men.

Another example of the way Clark’s value is equated to men’s success is her increasingly trending nickname, “Ponytail Pete.” Countless social media posts and news sites such as ESPN have begun to refer to her by this nickname, coined by former record holder Pete Marvich’s nickname, “Pistol Pete.”

By renaming Clark with something that compares her to Maravich, the media is reducing her identity and accomplishments. This serves as a prime example of the increased misogyny she faces as her value as an athlete is constantly associated with that of the man whose record she broke.

The media’s recent obsession with Clark’s career, although well-deserved, is still a pivotal example of the outdated social structure that only values women’s success when it is compared to men’s.

Clark is not the only female athlete to have struggled with this. It’s a repetitive narrative for women’s sports to be valued less. According to Forbes, there is an overwhelming discrepancy in viewership between the WNBA and NBA, as the NBA averaged 1.7 million viewers per game telecast, while the WNBA pales in comparison at around 321,000 viewers.

The disparity between the amount of support female athletes receive extends past the realm of basketball. As seen in the U.S. women’s soccer team’s well-known campaign for equal pay, women’s and men’s sports are not valued fairly.

Despite the women’s team having a significantly higher success rate at the international level, the pay gap persists and serves as an example of how even though female athletes might be considerably more successful than men within their respective athletic competitions, women’s accomplishments still continue to be neglected compared to men’s. As this issue exists within a variety of sports, the misogyny female athletes face is simply an extension of the deep-rooted sexism that dismisses the value of women’s sports in society.

It’s critical that we break this cycle of misogyny within sports, not just for the benefit of current female athletes, but for future generations of young girls as well. Female athletes deserve to be recognized for their achievements to the same extent as men.

Celebrating the accomplishments of women in sports, not just when their achievements can compare to those of a man, is necessary in order to provide female athletes with the recognition they deserve. In doing so, we can become more supportive of female athletes and encourage the next generation of young girls by providing them with the role models they need.

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About the Contributor
Audrey Cushman, Reporter
Audrey Cushman ('26) is a Reporter for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.

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