Bob Costas talks Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and race in the WNBA

Bob Costas appeared on CNN’s “NewsNight With Abby Phillip” on Monday night alongside Cari Champion. The trio discussed the drama in the WNBA surrounding Caitlin Clark. 

One comment from Costas, in particular, made the rounds on social media Tuesday. Costas said that a foul committed against Chicago Sky rookie Angel Reese by Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas didn’t garner the same attention as Chennedy Carter fouling Caitlin Clark because it was a “black-on-black incident.” 

“There was an incident recently where Alyssa Thomas, who happens to be African-American, grabbed Angel Reese by the throat and threw her to the floor,” Costas said.

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“The reason why that doesn’t spark as much conversation isn’t just that Caitlin Clark is a bigger star than Alyssa Thomas. It’s because it’s a black-on-black incident. You don’t have the dynamic that people can comment on but also exaggerate and make the entire story.”

Here’s the clip of Costas that made headlines, and a clip of the foul committed against Angel Reese on May 25 to which he is referring. (App users click here).

The entire segment with Costas, Phillip and Champion lasted seven minutes, with the above clip generating the most reaction. 

The full segment included Cari Champion saying she was tired of people claiming that other WNBA players are “jealous” of Caitlin Clark. 

“There should be more layers to this sport,” Champion said. “If you’re really going to welcome yourself to the WNBA and cover it and talk about it, can we be more than just ‘jealous’? Can there be some real, true competition? Can they just be athletes?”

At this point, Costas respectfully disagrees with Champion. 

“I think it would be foolish to say that resentment and jealousy are not part of the mix, because those are human emotions,” Costas said. “But to elevate that above everything else and discard everything else in a complicated dynamic, that’s the wrong way to go.”

Here’s the full segment (app users click here): 

I know Bob a little bit from my time working at ESPN. He had appeared on several shows that I produced throughout the years, so I decided to reach out to him and see if he would talk to OutKick about his commentary and the reactions to it. 

He graciously accepted the invitation, which I appreciate. He shared with me his general distaste for the “clickbait” media, where clips get taken out of context and people look for “gotcha” moments. He felt that some people did that with this clip. 

But diving deeper into this Caitlin Clark-Angel Reese-WNBA debate, I found that Costas and I have more in common than things on which we disagree. 

CHICAGO CROWD GIVES CHENNEDY CARTER STANDING OVATION IN FIRST GAME SINCE HARD FOUL ON CAITLIN CLARK

I’ll start with the disagreement, because it’s a shorter list. I disagree with Costas’ take that the Reese foul got less attention because she and Thomas are both black. 

To me, the reasons it got less attention are quite clear: Clark is a much bigger star than Reese, the game in which Reese was fouled aired on CBS Sports Network (which draws small audiences) and Clark’s game against Chicago was on ESPN (and had over 1.5 million viewers, per Sports Media Watch). 

In addition, there was some controversy around the Carter foul on Clark because referees did not assess a flagrant in the moment. As Costas pointed out on CNN, Alyssa Thomas was assessed a flagrant-2 for her choke slam on Reese and ejected from the game. Justice was served, so to speak. 

I told Bob that I disagreed with his take on this, and to his credit, he told me that the criticisms were “fair.” 

“Yes, anything that involves Caitlin Clark is going to get a disproportionate amount of attention,” Costas said. “If she goes for 30 points, that’s going to get a disproportionate amount of attention than if someone else scored 30 points because she’s a focal point. I understand that’s the primary difference between Caitlin Clark and everybody else.” 

That being said, Costas feels as though Angel Reese garners enough attention in her own right to get more coverage on an egregious foul than she did. 

“You could make a very strong case that, even though she is also a rookie, given the attention that both of them got during the last two NCAA Tournaments, the second-most famous player to the average, non-initiated WNBA fan right now is Angel Reese,” Costas said. 

Again, I mostly agree with Costas here. Where I disagree slightly is that the gap between the two is quite large, thus the disproportionate coverage between #1 and #2 still makes sense, but that’s just a minor difference of opinion. 

Where Costas and I agreed very heavily was on the subject of the hostility that Caitlin Clark faces from other WNBA players. Many people want to boil that down to one issue. 

Some think it’s because she’s white, some think it’s because she’s not as talented as advertised, some think it’s jealousy of her fame, some think it doesn’t exist and this is just standard rookie hazing. 

But the real answer is obvious: it’s all of those things for some WNBA players, some of those things for others, and none of those things for still others. 

Yes, Clark’s race plays a role, according to Costas, but so do all the other factors. 

“You’d have to be willfully blind not to acknowledge that a substantial portion of whatever resentment there is within the WNBA towards Caitlin Clark isn’t just because she’s received so much publicity … Not just because she’s making more money … but there’s some resentment towards her because she’s white. There’s no question about that,” he said. 

“And there’s also no question that some people have targeted her for any combination of reasons. But that doesn’t mean that it’s also not concurrently true in a complex situation that there are other reasons. Some of the resentment has a racial element for some players. But not everyone in the league,” Costas continued. 

“People are going to hear what they want to hear. They’re going to emphasize what they want to emphasize. I think that, as with most things, my view on this is a good deal more textured and nuanced than clickbait addicts can deal with.” 

I’m frequently frustrated when people try to dumb down the human brain. You know, it is possible for humans to hold several emotions and feelings all at the same time. We are complex creatures with complex thoughts and emotions, which I think Costas clearly understands and articulates well. 

There are almost certainly many WNBA players who are jealous of Clark’s success and popularity, but also realize that, ultimately, it’s going to be good for the league and good for them in the long run. Both things can be true, and both feelings can exist within the same person’s brain at the same time. 

Bob Costas did a nice job of fleshing out the entire issue, defending his points while also giving ground when he met reasonable criticism, and he and I had a very good and respectful conversation, even when we disagreed. Novel concept, I know. 

The problem for Costas, and for me writing this article, is that nuanced takes that weigh multiple scenarios and take many circumstances into account just don’t do well in today’s media environment. 

Everyone wants a “hot take” and short attention spans have made it almost impossible to break through with long-form content. I’d be surprised if anyone besides my dad and my editor have even made it this far in this piece.  

Just look at the two Costas clips on CNN that I shared above. As of this writing, the shortened clip where he talks about the “black-on-black incident” has over one million views. 

The full clip with all the proper context? Fewer than 75k viewers. Talk about disproportionate coverage, huh? 

In conclusion, I really want to thank Bob Costas for taking the time to speak with me and with OutKick. Hopefully, if you made it this far, you got something out of the conversation like I did. 

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