Rookie resentment doesn’t happen often in the NFL

Caitlin Clark has brought unprecedented attention to women’s basketball. And plenty of women’s basketball players seem to resent her for it.

The situation came to a head on Saturday, when Clark took an away-from-the-ball cheap shot, possibly preceded by this message from her assailant: “You’re a bitch.”

It’s an amazing development, but at some level it’s not surprising. Human nature includes plenty of conflicting and at times unhelpful traits. There’s a limit to the amount of hero worship and/or premature praise and/or perceived favoritism that people can take before they start to get irritated. The question is whether that irritation causes us to act out.

Most of the time, no. Sometimes, yes. Yesterday for Caitlin Clark, yes.

It’s a bizarre situation, to say the least. We’ve tried to think about whether that same dynamic has happened in the NFL. The closest comparison is Reggie Bush, who entered the NFL in 2006 with more hype (and endorsements) than any rookie in years. And while there didn’t seem to be widespread resentment of Bush, Rex Ryan defenses seemed to consistently target him.

After facing Bush in 2006, then-Ravens linebacker Bart Scott (who played in Ryan’s defense at the time) said Bush was “the media darling, a/k/a the golden boy of the NFL.” In 2012, when Bush was playing for the Dolphins, there was some open ugliness between Bush and Ryan’s Jets. (Bush later played for Ryan in Buffalo, eventually saying of the team under Rex, “We didn’t have discipline. . . . The lack of discipline we had from a team standpoint. Our coaching staff didn’t do a great job of making sure guys were held accountable.”)

There’s another difference between the two sports. In football, if you take a cheap shot at a player, you’ll potentially have to deal with his teammates. After Clark got flattened, only one teammate reacted — and she went over to help Clark up, not to confront her assailant. (The more responsible move is to not escalate the situation, and to let the powers-that-be handle it. It remains to be seen whether the powers-that-be will.)

Other than Bush (who never became the second coming of Gale Sayers), the NFL has never had a new player who arrived with the presumption that he would prpel the sport to unprecedented heights. Whenever that happens in any sport, however, it feels like something that should be embraced under the age-old theory that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Maybe WNBA players should think about that before trying to sink Caitlin Clark’s ship.

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