Former Minnesota Lynx player Candice Wiggins last week dropped a bomb on the WNBA, and the Lynx organization took a direct hit as a result.
Wiggins, the Lynx’s 2008 top draft choice and third overall, played here five seasons before she was traded to Tulsa in 2013 and retired in 2016 after eight seasons. She alleged in a February 20 interview published in a San Diego newspaper that the league is “98 percent gay,” claiming she was “bullied” out of the league because she is heterosexual. “There were horrible things happening to me every day,” said Wiggins.
“I’ve never witnessed the kind of bullying Wiggins describes in her interview,” said 11-year WNBA veteran Monique Currie to espnW.com’s Mechelle Voepel, a longtime league reporter. Later in an MSR phone interview, Voepel said, “What she [Wiggins] did was paint the entire league as having a toxic, bullying, negative culture. Those are such sweeping generalization statements.”
I have covered the WNBA, which begins its 21st year later this year, as well as the Lynx throughout its entire history and women’s sports since the 1980s. Voepel asked me if I was I aware of bullying during Wiggins’ time with the Lynx. “I don’t think there’s anybody who follows the Lynx more closely than you have,” she said.
“The only time I’d see players side against her was because she went so damn hard.”
I talked with Wiggins many times during her time in Minnesota as well as her stints with Tulsa, Los Angeles and New York. I heard and saw many things, but not bullying.
“She [Wiggins] was very open-minded, a strong lady,” recalled “Ethan” (not his real name — he agreed to speak to us only on condition that his real identity would not be revealed). Ethan was a former Lynx employee who was there when Wiggins was there. “We had so many cliques on our team. I don’t think she fit into one of those cliques,” he said.
But Ethan quickly affirmed a common perception of Wiggins: “She was one of those players who could easily get on your nerves, male or female.”
“People were deliberately trying to hurt me all the time,” stated Wiggins in the interview.
“I remember people being pissed at her,” stated Ethan, adding that it wasn’t because she was heterosexual. “She would play defense on you like it was no tomorrow. She would go as hard as anybody” whether it was a full practice or a game-day shoot around.
The word “dirty” eventually became synonymous with Wiggins’ play, not only during her Minnesota days but through her entire league stay. “When you have that reputation…[it] is not for being beautiful, gay or straight, but people are tired of you being a dirty player,” noted Washington Coach Mike Thibault.
“Nobody ever told me that on the record or off the record. No one ever told me they were bullied in all the years I have covered the WNBA,” said Voepel.
“I’m not going to say [the alleged bullying] was or wasn’t,” continued Thibault. “That’s something that should be addressed when it’s happening. She [Wiggins] talked about people called her a b**ch” but “a lot of people in the league” saw the retired player as “one of the dirtier players in the league.”
Once a teammate stood over Wiggins at a Lynx practice and called her a couple of choice words, but Ethan said that it wasn’t about sexual orientation but rather about Wiggins throwing an elbow at the player. “The only time I’d see players side against her was because she went so damn hard. She had a lot of problems throughout the league,” he said.
Although Wiggins later said her “98 percent” remark was only an exaggeration, her words nonetheless reignited the silly belief that all WNBA players are not heterosexual. I usually don’t use the words “straight” or “gay” in my sports reporting.
“If you look at sports in general, it’s a societal thing. Contact sports are seen as a male sport” and women who play them are perceived as masculine in nature, says “Ellen” (not her real name), a Black female Lynx ticket holder since 2010, who added that she is not heterosexual.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, or whatever you identify under,” any sort of bullying, if it occurs, is unacceptable, Ellen said. “You can’t tell someone how they feel, and if she felt bullied, that’s very unfortunate. I don’t think that happened to Candice.”
Read more on Wiggins’ comments in this week’s Sportwriter’s Notebook
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.