Caitlin Clark seizes records in sports, but gender gaps remain in America

The sports world is but a microcosm of the inequality and disparities in pay and opportunities for women in this country.

It’s hard to miss her. Her image has popped up on billboards in multiple cities, on cereal boxes, insurance and shoe ads, and scores of T-shirts. She’s all over the internet. Her endorsements include Panini, H&R Block, Nike, Buick, State Farm, Gatorade and more.

University of Iowa Hawkeye women’s basketball point guard Caitlin Clark has caused a ticket sellout nearly everywhere she and her team have played this season, with ticket prices reaching record high prices.

Every Hawkeye home game has been a sell-out this year; a new twist in women’s basketball anywhere. In the Big Ten Conference alone, almost every woman’s team has seen up to four times its regular attendance figures when the Hawkeyes are in town.

More:Carver-Hawkeye Arena ready for grand finale to cap unmatched Iowa women’s basketball season

She’s changed the sport by bringing in droves of new fans, of all genders and backgrounds, there to watch her achieve new scoring heights with her spectacular play.

Never has a single player in college women’s sports caused such a fan frenzy. It’s not even close. Here’s a small sample of the records racked up by Iowa’s #22.

Most career points in Division I history for men and women.
First Division I player (men’s or women’s) to have 3,000 or more points, 900 or more assists and 800 or more rebounds in a career.
56 30-point games, the most by a Division I player in the past 25 seasons.
12 40-point games, the most by a Division I player in the past 25 seasons.
Most single season 3-pointers in Division I history for men and women.

Even non-basketball fans are impressed by a woman breaking records held by male stars. Through it all, Clark maintains an even demeanor, not hiding her prowess, but embracing her influence. She signs as many autographs as possible after every game, for the hordes of younger kids, of all genders, who idolize her.

Clark views this accessibility as a positive. “I’m all about growing the women’s game,” Clark said after a win over Indiana in the regular season finale last month, “and I’m glad I’ve given something that little girls can scream about at the top of their lungs.”

When Clark announced her decision to go pro after this season, the story topped sports pages across the country. Her popularity affects and reflects women’s rising power in sports marketing, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled three years ago that student athletes can market and earn money from their name, image and likeness, known as NIL.

The NIL change is especially empowering for female athletes, whose post-college professional path is historically far less lucrative than men’s.

Now, with Clark, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has a chance to draw new crowds. The Indiana Fever, the team likely to draft Clark, and all their opponents will likely see early upticks in attendance when the Fever hit town. She’s a golden goose for the league.

The WNBA can use the “Clark Effect” to showcase its high level of play, and hopefully gain traction in a quest for parity with the National Basketball Association men’s league.

During the 2022-23 season, the 30 franchises comprising the NBA recorded total revenue of $10.58 billion.

As of 2022, the WNBA reportedly generated $60 million. Hardly comparable, but a big step for the women’s league, further proving the growth of their game. Slowly, WNBA salaries are rising.

Significant work still needs to be done to achieve gender equality and opportunity for women in the sports world.

Besides pay, women in sports still trail men when it comes to media coverage, sponsorship opportunities, representation in leadership roles such as coaching and administration, and access to resources and facilities.

The sports world is but a microcosm of the inequality and disparities in pay and opportunities for women in this country. Women are often subject to societal expectations and norms that dictate their behavior and limit their autonomy and freedom.

While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to achieve full gender equality for women in America. Some of the disparities that remain include:

Economic: Women are still paid less than men for the same work and are underrepresented in higher-paying and leadership positions.
Political: Women are underrepresented in political leadership positions and face barriers to running for office and participating in decision-making processes.
Legal: Women remain challenged by laws that discriminate against them in cases of divorce, inheritance, and domestic violence.

Clark has used some of her earnings to create The Caitlin Clark Foundation. The mission: uplift and improve the lives of youth and their communities through education, nutrition, and sport — three pillars Caitlin believes are foundational in her success.

Her example inspires girls and women to follow her lead in breaking through barriers that continue to challenge American women daily, and help close the gender gap, still as wide as the arc of one of #22’s “From the Logo” 3-pointers.

Claudia Schabel

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