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Sports columnist apologises after ‘awkward’ heart gesture interaction with Caitlin Clark

Indianapolis sports columnist Gregg Doyel faced backlash for his ‘cringe’ comments at an Indiana Fever press conference

Meredith Clark
New York
Thursday 18 April 2024 16:53 BST
Related: Caitlin Clark chosen as first pick in WNBA Draft

An Indianapolis reporter has apologised after facing backlash for his “awkward” interaction with Caitlin Clark.

Indianapolis Star sports columnist Gregg Doyel attended Clark’s introductory press conference on Wednesday 17 April, after she was selected first pick at the 2024 WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever. Before he asked the 22-year-old women’s basketball player a question, the journalist flashed a heart symbol with his hands - a gesture that Clark has become known to flash her family in the stands at her University of Iowa Hawkeyes games.

However, his gesture led to an interaction between the pair that many fans have subsequently dubbed as “cringe” and “inappropriate”.

After Doyel flashed Clark the heart symbol with his hands, the NCAA star replied: “You like that?” In response, the columnist said: “I like that you’re here.”

“Yeah, I do that at my family after every game,” Clark then explained.

As Doyel said back: “Start doing it to me and we’ll get along just fine,” Clark noticeably had a blank expression on her face.

Unsurprisingly, the reporter’s comments led many fans to criticise Doyel for the “uncomfortable” exchange, while others pointed out that “awkward” moments such as these are simply one of the many challenges women face in professional sports.

“This is so uncomfortable and she doesn’t deserve to have to deal with that,” one person wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Stop. Being. Creepy. To. Women.”

“It’s not clear to me that men realise how common this kind of interaction is for women in everyday life,” another user said.

“Just unprofessional and downright weird. Would never happen at a men’s presser and shouldn’t happen here,” a third person shared.

Following the backlash, Doyel penned a public apology that was published online in the Indianapolis Star on Wednesday, titled: “Caitlin Clark, I’m so sorry. On Wednesday I was part of the problem.”

“I’m devastated to realise I’m part of the problem. I screwed up Wednesday during my first interaction with No 1 overall draft pick Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever,” he began.

Doyel explained that he’s “known locally” for having “awkward conversations” with athletes “before asking brashly conversational questions,” as he’s done so with Indiana Colts coaches and Purdue University players.

He described himself as “another insensitive man” and said he “offended” both Clark and her family. Doyel then shared that a woman whom he “deeply respects” later informed him: “But Caitlin Clark is a young woman, and you don’t talk to a young woman the same as you would a young man.”

“After years of being so sure I was on the right side of these arguments, I was now on the wrong side, and for the oldest reason known to man and woman: Ignorance,” Doyel wrote, adding: “After going through denial, and then anger - I’m on the wrong side of this? Me??? - I now realise what I said and how I said it was wrong, wrong, wrong. I mean it was just wrong.

“Caitlin Clark, I’m so sorry,” he said.

Doyel also apologised to Clark on X, where he said that his comment during the press conference was “clumsy and awkward”.

“I sincerely apologise. Please know my heart (literally and figuratively) was well-intentioned. I will do better,” he wrote.

Clark received national attention throughout her final NCAA season at the University of Iowa, where she broke the college basketball league’s all-time scoring and assist records for both men and women. She has since been praised as one of the most successful players in women’s college basketball, and has even been credited with helping increase viewership for NCAA women’s basketball. In fact, this year’s final championship game between Iowa and South Carolina attracted 24m viewers, topping the men’s D1 final audience by millions and attracting the most viewers of any college basketball game since 2019.

However, Clark has also ignited a debate about pay disparity in women’s sports after it was revealed that her rookie contract with the Fever is expected to be worth $338,056 over the course of four years - earning just $76,535 in her rookie season this summer.

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