‘Written in 1971’: Columnist apologises after awkward interaction with Caitlin Clark

A columnist for the Indianapolis Star has apologised after an uncomfortable interaction with Caitlin Clark at a press conference on Wednesday.

Gregg Doyel was selected to ask a question at Clark’s introductory news conference with the Indiana Fever, who selected her No 1 overall in Monday’s WNBA draft. Before Doyel asked his question he made a heart sign with his hands, a gesture that Clark was known for during her record-breaking college career with Iowa.

Related: Caitlin Clark mania reached a fever pitch at the WNBA’s buzziest draft ever | Frida Garza

Clark asked Doyel if he liked the sign, to which Doyel replied: “I like that you’re here.” Clark said she flashes the sign at her family after every game. Doyel replied: “OK, well start doing that to me and we’ll get along just fine.” Clark did not respond to the comment.

Journalists and fans were quick to criticise Doyel on social media.

Veteran ESPN writer Don Van Natta Jr wrote on X that “this sounds like a hack Hollywood screenwriter’s idea of a sportswriter’s cool banter. Written in 1971.”

Dana O’Neil, a senior writer at The Athletic, was one of a number of people who wondered if Doyel would have used the same line on an NBA player. “Sometimes life isn’t hard,” she wrote on X. “If, for example, as a professional, ethical, impartial reporter it would not occur to you make a heart at, say, Victor Wembanyama, don’t make one at Caitlin Clark.”

Doyel later apologised on X and then in a column for the Star. He said he was known for his awkward interactions with male and female athletes but that was no excuse. Doyel wrote: “I was … convinced I was harmless and right, when a woman I deeply respect told me, ‘Caitlin Clark is a young woman, and you don’t talk to a young woman the same as you would a young man.’ And my heart dropped. Because now I saw it: 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.”

Clark broke a host of scoring records during her college career with Iowa and this year helped the NCAA women’s final, where the Hawkeyes played South Carolina, draw in more viewers than the men’s championship game.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday that Clark is nearing an eight-figure endorsement deal with Nike that will include a signature shoe.