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Opinion: Throwing like a girl

Madeline Rivera
I used to feel shameful playing sports as a little girl, but now, at 17 years old, that feeling has changed — and I have Caitlin Clark to thank. With record-breaking scores, she’s changing the history of women’s athletics and inspiring a new generation.

Six years. 

I played softball for six years before quitting. 

I was a catcher on the Pink Panthers softball team. Our cotton shirts were dyed hot pink, I wore frilly ribbons in my hair every game and my bat was a deep shade of purple. Despite my feminine appearance, I never allowed others’ opinions to influence my love for the sport — or so I thought. Then I heard the phrase for the first time after a game:

“You throw like a girl.”

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That moment was only the beginning of many other moments and feelings. It was the phrase I heard throughout my entire life in every sport I played. Soccer, softball or volleyball — it didn’t matter. Any achievement or success I had on the athletic field was overshadowed by my taller, stronger male counterpart. Even at 10 years old, I knew no matter how talented I became, I would never be seen as good enough in comparison to the average boy. 

So, I gave up. I threw away sports, stopped trying out and looked for other extracurriculars — a decision I regret to this day. I felt overshadowed by my gender. I knew women were more capable than any backhanded comment or male comparison, but I also knew what being a woman in a male-dominated sport felt like: shame, continuous comments and hate. 

Yet at 17 years old, that feeling changed — and I have Caitlin Clark to thank.

All I knew of Caitlin Clark was from my grandpa; he would display YouTube videos of her record-breaking three-pointers and game strategies on the TV. I had never heard of her and honestly didn’t care at first, until I saw her playing. I couldn’t look away or I’d miss her shots with one blink. She was dominating the game — something no one could disagree on. 

Basketball has always been seen as a man’s sport, but slowly, the roles are reversing. When March Madness rolled around this year, I expected the only team games displayed across nearly every channel would be the men’s. Yet something was different. While flipping through the sports broadcasts, my feed was filled with NCAA games of women’s basketball. A new feeling arose.

I felt like a little girl once again — the little girl who was just told by her male peers that she was too “weak” to be better than any man. But instead of the shameful tears that usually came, I felt stronger. I now know the pink bows ribboned throughout my hair didn’t make me any less capable than a man; the hot pink cleats and glove didn’t define me or my talent. I felt the same way during the game: stronger, recognized and appreciated. The 10-year-old catcher didn’t have the chance to live out her athletic dreams, but generations to come will.

This year, the University of Connecticut (UConn) vs. the University of Iowa (UI) game broke records. The game averaged 14.2 million viewers on ESPN — the most viewed women’s basketball game and the largest audience for an ESPN broadcast ever. These numbers aren’t just numbers, they represent change. Women are finally getting recognized for their talent, strength and capability in sports.

On March 3, Caitlin Clark became the all-time highest Division 1 NCAA scorer in basketball between men and women with 3,951 points. Her impact is bringing together a community, raising a new generation and inspiring young girls and boys. She has impacted the future of not only women’s basketball, but women’s athletics in general — women have been great for generations, but now they’re finally getting the same coverage as their male-counterpart. 

While Caitlin Clark has revolutionized the media coverage of women’s basketball, she is only one of the many other talented women who continue to dominate and rewrite history. Paige Bueckers, Kamilla Cardoso and Juju Watkins are a few of the talented women who are dismantling the misogyny and stigma around being a woman in sports. 

Despite UI losing in the NCAA National Championship on April 7 to South Carolina, Caitlin Clark’s legacy didn’t end in those 40 minutes. Her legacy will last for generations and continue to change the future of NCAA women’s basketball and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). 

The young catcher dressed in all pink is no longer ashamed of who she is or scared of the comments from those around her. Yes, I may throw like a girl, but so does Caitlin Clark, and many other talented athletic females. It’s not “you throw like a girl” anymore; it’s now, “can you throw like a girl?”

This story was originally published on The Hawk Eye on April 10, 2024.