Wiggins’ allegations play to stereotypes of the WNBA

Candice Wiggins’ recent allegations that a bullying culture existed in the WNBA during her eight seasons, and that the majority of the players are not heterosexual was, as expected, met with criticism from present and former players alike.

“I was stunned and disappointed” after reading her published comments, said WNBA President Lisa Borders last week in a released statement. Wiggins’ comment first ran in a San Diego newspaper and were picked up by ESPN and other sources.

“It concerns me if any of our players do not have a positive experience and I hope that anyone who feels uncomfortable would reach out to me or others in the league office,” added Madame President.

Candice Wiggins (Sophia Hantzes)

“Only three were straight?” asked former Lynx Devereaux Peters in her response to Wiggins’  “98 percent of the league is gay” comments on her You Tube series.

Why Wiggins, who retired as a player in 2016, chose to “come out” now with her allegations also has been debated. It’s no secret that there are players in the league who aren’t heterosexual. But this longtime women’s sports reporter never particularly cared about a player’s sexual orientation; I largely center my reporting on the on-court action and off-court diversity issues.

But now that Wiggins has broad-brushed the league with her unfounded roster figures, once again the WNBA is on the front page for something other than trades, free agent signings and the like.

“The 98 percent [remark] is not true,” said “Susan” (not her real name) a local female coach. She added, “Now we are going to see a lot of stuff coming out because of” Wiggins’ comments.  Sadly, Wiggins talked about other matters that are worthy of discussing, but were largely overlooked and overshadowed by her bullying culture claims. Such issues include salary disparities that have existed since the W started — a primary reason why most players play overseas during the off-season.

It’s a good guess that eight out of every 10 W players play overseas for part of all of the off-season that spans from October to April. And every one of those players most likely makes eight times more than their league salary which ranges from $75,000 to a little over $100,000 a season.  As a result, a female hoopster’s shelf life is lowered because of the year-round playing. Wiggins played for clubs in four foreign countries during her eight seasons in the league.

Wiggins also contends that “a lot of jealousy and competition” exists in the league. That could be because there are only 11 spots on each of the 12 league teams, and little turnover occurs annually. Players are waived sometimes after a season, or even during the season, simply to open up a roster spot for an incoming draft pick.

Players being bullied, as Wiggins claims, should be more examined. But let’s go a little deeper: Wiggins was a four-time All-American star at Stanford. She was big time in college at one of college basketball’s storied programs, but peaked early as a pro. Her first two seasons were her best, and then she suffered a horrific season-ending injury eight games into her third. Wiggins returned the following season, but never was the same player, and her double-digit scoring average severely dropped to low single digits.

I can easily remember my first interview with Wiggins after she was drafted third overall by Minnesota in 2008. She, Nicky Anosike from Tennessee and Connecticut’s Charde Houston were also Lynx draftees — Wiggins’ and Anosike’ teams just a couple days earlier played for the 2008 national title, won by Tennessee.

Now rookie teammates Anosike and Wiggins were standing next to each other being interviewed by me. The two women were uneasily cordial. They landed on a club “full of cliques,” said a former team employee, and it wasn’t uncommon that tempers would occasionally arise because each WNBA team, then and now, are full of former college rivals and such rivalries aren’t easy to forget just because you are wearing the same team colors.

It also didn’t help the fact that Wiggins was outspoken and became a fan favorite at Minnesota. But it didn’t help that her star status was changing — that status would soon belong to franchise star Seimone Augustus.

“I’m sure Seimone and her clash[ed] at times,” recalled the employee whose identity was not published by request.

Wiggins also was considered a dirty player on the court:  “I remember people being pissed at her.  The only time I’d see players side against her because she went so damn hard” whether it was practice or shoot-around, he added.

Lastly, Wiggins has a new autobiography coming out – could she be trying to drum up interest in advance of its release?

“Is this is your way of drawing up controversy if you’re writing a book?” asked Washington Coach Mike Thibault when asked by the MSR about the possibility last week. “It’s very self-serving if that’s part of it,” he responded.

But Wiggins also revived well-worn beliefs among some who say that the WNBA is nothing but a non-heterosexual players’ league. This is as far from the truth as can be.

 

Read Another View for more on Candice Wiggins’ controversial comments on the WNBA.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.