Explaining the Caitlin Clark media meltdown, plus another huge baseball gambling scandal

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Good morning! It’s a serious Tuesday.

Talking Points: Caitlin Clark and a day that demanded nuance

There is nothing more divisive in sports right now than the mere existence of Caitlin Clark, who inspires record viewership, controversial hard fouls and, as we saw yesterday, prominent media members to lose their minds. 

Let’s start with yesterday’s maelstrom before we fill in some context: 

  • During Pat McAfee’s afternoon ESPN show, he referred to Clark as a “white b—” while passionately defending the Fever rookie in a segment. He took exception with the argument that anyone besides Clark (Angel Reese, Cameron Brink, etc.) is driving the league’s newfound expanded audience. McAfee later apologized for his wording. Simply, as Andrew Marchand wrote yesterday, McAfee came up short.
  • Elsewhere on ESPN, Stephen A. Smith and women’s basketball analyst Monica McNutt engaged in a frankly uncomfortable back-and-forth about the coverage of Clark and the WNBA. Smith asked McNutt, “Who talks about women’s sports more than ‘First Take’?” To which McNutt replied: “Stephen A., respectfully, with your platform you could’ve been doing this three years ago if you wanted to.” Smith later got very angry online about the whole thing, while McNutt expoaded on her comments with Shannon Sharpe later in the evening. 

McNutt’s comment — and Smith’s later response — are the crux of this entire issue:

  • For those who watched/covered/enjoyed WNBA basketball before Clark arrived, this was already a great league, with great storylines and great basketball. Those people will wonder why it took everyone else so long to see. More specifically, they want to know why it was Clark who brought these eyeballs, and not players like Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles or A’ja Wilson. It’s a valid point, and one Jim Trotter made back in April about the uncomfortable truth behind the Caitlin Clark Effect.
  • And yet this is our reality, which is something both Smith and McAfee (however clumsily) emphasized. Clark has helped bring this massive moment for the WNBA, fair or not — to the aforementioned league legends and Clark herself. 

Two things can be true. I hope this is simply a day of growing pains for the national media and fans on how we talk about the WNBA as it becomes more of a national discussion. Every metric shows massive, massive interest in all things Clark and WNBA right now. That’s not going away. 

I thought The Athletic’s Zena Keita and Marcus Thompson II made that point well — and better than I did — on an emergency episode of The Athletic Women’s Basketball Show. It’s worth a listen.

News to Know

Jefferson’s big bucks
The Minnesota Vikings and Justin Jefferson agreed to a four-year, $140 million contract extension yesterday, a deal almost 10 months in the making. The terms include $110 million guaranteed and a staggering $88.743 million due at signing. Jefferson becomes the highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL with an annual average value of $35 million, $1 million more than Nick Bosa. It’s also a win for my beloved 2019 LSU Tigers, who now boast the highest-paid QB (Joe Burrow) and the highest-paid non-QB.

Mbappe move finally official
It’s an announcement we’ve waited over a year for: Kylian Mbappe is officially a member of Real Madrid, the club said in a statement yesterday, just two days after winning the Champions League title. The full story of Mbappe’s flirtation with Madrid is worth a book on its own. And am I crazy to think this feels like when Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors? Mbappe’s move is just the first of what should be a frenetic summer transfer window — and our friends across the Atlantic are making a new weekly guide focused on it, called Transfer DealSheet, which debuts today.

More news

Serious Matters: A lifetime ban?

Major League Baseball is investigating Padres shortstop Tucupita Marcano for allegedly betting on baseball, sources confirmed to The Athletic. The fallout could be jarring: 

  • Marcano, 24, played for the Pirates last year and, while he was injured with a torn ACL, allegedly bet on Pittsburgh games, which is the biggest no-no. MLB rules dictate a lifetime ban for a player who bets on their own team.
  • Marcano is one of five players under investigation, as The Wall Street Journal initially reported. The other four are minor-leaguers.
  • The news is part of a troubling trend in sports overall, and this in a sport with a lengthy history of betting scandals. The league made it through a wild scandal involving its best player already this year. And don’t forget that Pete Rose is still banned from baseball, 34 years later. 

If MLB did ban Marcano, he’d join former NBA forward Jontay Porter as professional athletes barred from their respective sports in the same year for betting. 

Read our full update on Marcano here.

Watch This Game

WCWS: Florida vs. Oklahoma
2 p.m. ET on ESPN
The Gators pulled off a huge upset yesterday over these Sooners, but their same-day rematch got pushed to today due to weather. If the Sooners lose, we’ll have a new national champion for the first time since 2019. 

MLB: Twins at Yankees
7:05 p.m. ET on TBS
Something to watch further this summer: Juan Soto is playing like an MVP again as he approaches free agency. His 1.031 OPS is tied for second in the majors (behind teammate Aaron Judge), a huge reason for the Yanks’ blistering, 42-19 start. The price keeps going up, and once again, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees letting an all-world talent leave

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

Everyone in Calgary knows it was a goal. Martin Gelinas, “The Eliminator,” regrets not making a bigger show out of it. But the goal didn’t count. Twenty years later, Julian McKenzie chronicles Gelinas — and a whole swath of Canada — still mourning the Stanley Cup stolen from the Flames

Possible fallout from the Jefferson deal: wide receivers holding out across the league as they negotiate their own new contracts. Mike Jones has that and four other NFL minicamp storylines

Keith Law took another look at the top 50 prospects in Major League Baseball after two months of the season. The top 10 saw some significant shuffling. 

Jim Bowden is still dominating the MLB trade deadline beat: yesterday brought tier assignments for all 30 teams. I am still so impressed by the Royals. 

There are plenty of interesting WNBA things beyond Caitlin Clark, as Sabreena Merchant highlighted in her fresh Power Rankings as the Commissioner’s Cup begins. 

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: Our story on Jaylon Johnson’s recovery from sex addiction

Most-read on the website yesterday: Zack Meisel’s fantastic feature on Cleveland’s infamous 10-cent beer night 50 years ago.

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(Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

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