Stephen A. Smith Says Race Helps Fuel Caitlin Clark-Angel Reese Rivalry

(Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

Rusty Weiss Contributor
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ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith discussed the ongoing rivalry between Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark on Thursday, suggesting the intensity behind it is fueled in part by race.

Smith was fielding questions presented by followers on X. One sports fan wondered if the WNBA stars were being “used to create race wars.”

While insisting the opposing styles of the Chicago Sky forward and the Indiana Fever guard were the main factor in creating a dynamic that draws eyes to their head-to-head matchups, Smith conceded that race does play a role.

“If two black girls or two white girls were going at it, would it be nearly as appealing?” he asked. “I would say no.” (RELATED: Caitlin Clark Nearly Gets Her Head Taken Off After Ruthless Swipe From Mystics’ Stefanie Dolson)

The First Take host pointed out that the rivalry didn’t truly get on the board until Clark’s Iowa team was defeated by Reese’s LSU Tigers in the 2023 NCAA women’s championship game.

“You could say race, but the reality is that there wasn’t any kind of warfare, per se, until Caitlin Clark was busting everybody’s living you-know-what and waving her hand in their face like that. ‘You can’t see me,’ whatever. And then Angel Reese met her in the NCAA Tournament and smoked her. With LSU. Took out Iowa. And that’s what made Angel Reese famous to this level,” Smith said.

It’s certainly taken off since then. Reese has been criticized for wildly cheering on the sideline as teammate Chennedy Carter delivered a hip-check away from the ball that floored Clark in their first matchup. Angel then leveled her with a clothesline in the rematch.

Smith contends that the juxtaposition of each player’s styles on and off the court is the main fuel behind the ongoing rivalry.

“Caitlin Clark says the right things, tries to avoid controversies, et cetera, et cetera,” he said.

“Angel Reese is a proud black woman who doesn’t run from any noise — and so when you look at that, that’s what I think it’s about. You can say race. I think it’s styles,” the host added.

“Race always plays a role in something like this to some degree. It’s not completely out of the equation. It’s always that, because America is America,” Smith argued, pointing out that the white population was declining as a percentage of the entire U.S. population.

“That’s why you got a lot of people in the United States of America right now, very, very iffy about some of the things that they’re seeing. Because there is a fear that society as we once knew it is evaporating before our eyes, and some people handle it better than others. Lot of people think it’s a good thing, lot of people think it’s absolutely awful for this country,” he continued.

“If that’s the case, and that’s what’s in existence, it’s inescapable — that race is going to play a role because depending on what community you come from, you may not look at this nation as being as bad as some other people view this nation as being right now. That’s just my thoughts,” he concluded.

Clark and the Fever will next face Reese and the Sky this Sunday. All eyes will be on the two as Indiana tries to make it three-in-a-row against Chicago.