Caitlin Clark belonged on Olympic team

Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever talks to reporters on May 1 during media day activities at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images/TNS)

It’s undeniable that Caitlin Clark has rocketed women’s basketball to an unprecedented level of viewership and prominence. She’s broken records on and off the court; her games are some of the most viewed women’s basketball games of all time, and her playing history is filled with similar accolades. She’s been an incredibly positive influence on a sport that, despite the talents of her predecessors, historically has failed to receive the same attention awarded to men’s basketball.

This is only part of why Clark’s snub from the Olympic team came as a shock. There are many arguments for her exclusion: She’s not as experienced on the international stage, she’s been unable to adequately train alongside members of the Olympic team, and mainly, some believe, there’s no reason to change a good thing. The chosen Olympic members are tried and tested athletes with the record to back up their selection: The American women’s basketball team has brought home nine gold medals in the past 12 Olympic tournaments.

But: Has raw performance alone been enough for the advancement of women’s basketball? To the extent where it’s satisfactory? It’s not the gold medals that are getting the women’s game the attention, recognition, viewers and money it deserves. It’s young, marketable players such as Clark, and that influence is what the selection committee for the U.S. women’s roster at this summer’s Paris Games declined.

Obviously you don’t take a player to the Olympics just because they’re marketable. You take them because they can win — while furthering the future of the sport. Clark had the potential to do it all. The objective risk, in terms of performance, of taking on experienced and talented 42-year-old Diana Taurasi was probably about the same as taking on the inexperienced Clark. The difference is that Clark would have brought new viewers in a way that nine gold medals have failed to do.

Furthermore, Clark is not controversial, not political and, thus far, unproblematic. She’s become influential in a neglected field in desperate need of a Jessie Diggins-eque figure. This was a rare opportunity to shake up the status quo, and the selection committee took a pass.