Monday, March 20, 2017

5 Reasons Why Candice Wiggins is Wrong

As I have been watching the college basketball tournament over the past week, I've been thinking about Candice Wiggins and her words regarding the culture inside the WNBA as relayed in an article from the San Diego Union Tribune back on February 20th. To summarize, Wiggins, now retired from the WNBA, gave an interview to the SD Tribune in which she laid out a negative experience in the league, featuring being bullied for being a straight woman, being called the "B word," and a level of competition that, for some reason, bothered her.

For those of you who don't know, Candice Wiggins is a recently retired WNBA player. She played 7 seasons in the WNBA after entering the league in the 2008 draft as the number 3 pick. Previously, Wiggins was a superstar at Stanford University, holding the women's record for scoring at both the university and in the PAC-TEN conference. She's played in the WNBA for the Minnesota Lynx, the Tulsa Shock, the Los Angeles Sparks, and the New York Liberty.

Wiggins' interview has been on the back burner in my mind for quite a few weeks, and it didn't really hit me until I was watching the women's games in the NCAA tournament, as to why it irked me so much. But I get it now and I want to talk about this, as it relates to a bigger picture about women in sports. Candace Wiggins has been asked to clear up a few of her statements following that interview, but has conveniently refused, insisting that people should look forward to her forthcoming memoir.

Well, I don't need to wait for her book in order to point out her ridiculousness, so I offer at least 5 reasons why Candice Wiggins is wrong.

5. Professional sports are hard.
In her original interview with the San Diego Union Tribune, Wiggins said of her time in the WNBA "There was a lot of jealousy and competition, and we're all fighting for crumbs."
No kidding? A lot of jealousy and competition? In the professional level of a sport? Shocking.
If there's one thing that should be seen as common sense in sports, it is that as the level of competition increases, the sport gets harder, not just in play, but in the entirety of the package that comes with being a professional athlete. This is the reason why it's not for everyone and why not everyone becomes a pro athlete. Some people can handle being in the spotlight and some can't. It's the reason why only 1% of female college basketball players go pro. I'd like to ask Wiggins if she knows how many other women would have done anything to be in her place, to even have the opportunity to play basketball professionally, for a living (even though players in the league do not make anything close to their male counterparts, the average salary is $75K). I'd like to give Wiggins the benefit of the doubt for this remark, as she could have been referencing something else, but since she sees herself as a prominent athlete, she should have made a clearer statement. I would expect something more professional from well...a professional.

4. Don't diminish the struggles of those who came before you...or of those still willing to fight.
"Nobody cares about the WNBA," said Wiggins in the interview.
Of the number of the incendiary statements Wiggins made in her interview, this one has some pretty serious implications. In five words, Wiggins seemed to diminish the blood, sweat, and tears of all of the women in basketball that struggled for just a chance to play, let alone, play at the professional level and make a living doing it. Now, it's true that the WNBA doesn't enjoy the fanfare of the NBA or any other male-dominated sport, for that matter. But what bothers me is that if you go and look at the comments section of a story on covering women's sports, you'll inevitably see some douchebag bro make that exact same statement.
Over the course of the past 20 years that the WNBA has been in existence, so many women have worked hard just to have a shot to do something that was unthinkable in our lifetime. And we can talk about attendance numbers (which have grown, by the way), we can continue to talk about the wage gap (though Wiggins enjoyed a hefty salary most women and current players could only dream of), but the fact is, it has taken a long time just for women's basketball to get to this point. Players much better than Wiggins paved the way for that. Players much better than Wiggins do and will continue to play and fight for this league that was only a dream for some.

I can't help but wonder what Pat Summitt would have said to Candice Wiggins if she dared say "Nobody cares..." in her presence.

3. Get over yourself.
One of the claims made by Wiggins is that players were jealous of her and the way she looked and played. She also said she was often thrown to the ground as a way that other players communicated their dislike for her. Also, she stated that she had never been called the "B-word" more in her life.
Well, guess what, kid? You chose to play a competitive sport that includes a lot of physical contact. You're going to get shoved around and tossed down a few times, especially when, as you seem to believe, you are a premier player (and I'll concede that fact, as Wiggins was the number 3 overall pick from Stanford in 2008). Other players will make it their job to take you down a notch. And you will constantly have to compete with players older, younger, better, and worse than you for a starting spot on the floor. If you're not getting shoved around, then you're not a threat.
As far as the name calling, I can't think of something more stupid to complain about. Everyone gets called names, regardless of their profession, or how much money they make, or who they are. It doesn't make it ok, but it's just a fact of life. And when you're an athlete, particularly a professional one who will play games on the road to some unfriendly fans, it's just part of the deal. You should expect it and you should have the presence of mind to either let it go or let it drive you.

2. You don't know about bullying.
Wiggins' statement about being a victim of bullying really hit me the wrong way. She claims to have been bullied about her heterosexuality, though not a single additional WNBA player has yet to come to her side to confirm this. In fact, a number of players have disputed her claims, and not a single team that Wiggins played for can corroborate her stories, since she never bothered to file a complaint to anyone in the organization.
It might serve Candice Wiggins well to speak with players such as Tamika Catchings, who retired after the 2016 season from the Indiana Fever. Catchings was born with hearing loss and has worn hearing aids. She details being bullied from a young age because of this in her book "Catch a Star," which I would highly recommend everyone, especially Ms. Wiggins, to read.
And Catchings' story is not the only one Wiggins should read up on. Countless other players in the WNBA have overcome actual real-life obstacles to play the game and make it to the professional level. And I don't doubt that Wiggins has overcome her own obstacles in life, but to call this one out specifically is a joke, especially given that we have hard evidence that homosexuals consistently are bullied far more than heterosexuals.
I, like Candice, grew up playing this wonderful game and at times had to play with boys. For a long time, I was the only girl in the league, let alone a team. Even up to high school, I would play in competitive recreational leagues with boys. You want to talk about bullying, come talk to me about the disgusting things said and done to me. And I know I'm not the only one.
It is more likely that Wiggins made these statements to play up the anticipation of her forthcoming memoir, an action I find manipulative and contradictory, considering that she apparently believes nobody cares about the WNBA...if that is so, I don't think many people will be interested in her book.

1. I'd check that math, if I were you.
Of course, the most outrageous thing that Wiggins claimed in her interview that "I would say 98% of the women in the WNBA are gay women."
The irony here is that while Candice is stereotyping professional women basketball players, she is playing into the stereotype that women aren't good at math. A number of players have stepped forward to let Wiggins know that she's being ridiculous on this, both straight and players who identify with the LGBT community. Wiggins went on to say that the WNBA culture encouraged women to act like men, leading her to feel bullied because she is "proud to be a woman." 
First, let's just call this what it bullshit. If Wiggins' math was correct, she'd be one of 3 straight women in the league - and that math just doesn't add up.
Next, this seems to contradict something that Wiggins said on the record, not too long ago. In 2015, Wiggins went on the record, celebrating the WNBA's Pride Night, saying "It's good to open up the conversation, to get people more comfortable with things that maybe before they didn't identify with."
So, which is it, Candice? Has the WNBA set a good example for their focus on diversity, or has that diversity been negative for you?
In a follow up with the San Diego Tribune, Wiggins defended her comment by saying she used that figure to be more illustrative, implying her words shouldn't be taken literally.
That sounds so familiar...not to drag politics into this, but this is the same thing Trump's surrogates end up saying on the Sunday shows to fend off questions about his tweets. When you have to say that, combined with an inability to admit you were wrong, it's a symptom of an ego problem.
The homophobic nature of Wiggins' statement is disgusting, and if it's only a taste of what is to come in her forthcoming book, then no, thank you. Hard pass.
Perhaps it's time for Candice Wiggins to hire a better PR person, if she has one at all. Those gay ladies she complains about make up a large portion of the fans that attended the games she was payed to play. When you alienate a fairly large portion of that fan base, I think you probably shouldn't expect great sales when your book comes out, unless you're going to market it to the Westboro crazies or the people who refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings. 

I think what we're actually seeing with Candice Wiggins is a player that came into the league with insane potential to be great, but she didn't have the illustrious career expected of her. But after facing fierce competition with women who play year-around (both for financial and physical reasons), having to move to different cities for new contracts, injuries that required surgeries, and less than superstar stats (Wiggins averaged just 8.6 points per game, about half of what she scored in college), I believe Wiggins has become bitter about her career, and didn't choose her words very carefully when she was first interviewed by the San Diego Union Tribune.

If all of these hardships she faced in the league were real, she should have reported them and spoke up at the time. That would be the best example she could have set for young women, everywhere and in every walk of life. She could have become more involved with the league union and fought to make the league better than she found it. That's what a great player would have done. 

And that's why few will remember the career of Candice Wiggins.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mr. Trump Goes to Congress

As I've stated before on this blog, I love the Presidential address to Congress. It is one of the biggest political highlights of the year. Throughout the Obama presidency, I always looked forward to hearing him address the nation in his trademark hopeful, optimistic tone, while being able to tell us the hard truths about the state of our nation.

I have to admit that as much as I've always looked forward to this yearly address to Congress and the nation, I've spent the same amount of time since the election trying to not think about what would be Trump's first address to Congress. It was one of those things that I couldn't even fathom, and even when I tried, all I could imagine was the Trump we all saw on the campaign trail - a blowhard amateur, unable to stay on message, much less speak in a complex sentence structure. I figured that the only good thing that would come out of a Trump address would be non-stop fodder for the writers at Saturday Night Live.

Well, Mr. Trump certainly did not let me down in his first address to Congress and the nation last night. There were many issues with Trump's speech; not just in the words, but in the optics, and also in the context of all of the things going on around the speech.

First, I'd encourage all of you to go read the transcript of Trump's speech and see if you can identify a common thread in the writing, as compared to the transcript of previous addresses made by Obama.
Do you see it?
Here's an excerpt from President Obama's final state of the union address to Congress:
"That's why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn't weaken them, we should strengthen them. And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today. That's what the Affordable Care Act is all about. It's about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when we lose a job, or go back to school, or start that new business, we'll still have coverage. Nearly eighteen million have gained coverage so far. Health care inflation has slowed. And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.Now, I'm guessing we won't agree on health care anytime soon. But there should be other ways both parties can improve economic security. Say a hardworking American loses his job – we shouldn't just make sure he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that's ready to hire him. If that new job doesn't pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills. And even if he's going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him. That's the way we make the new economy work better for everyone."
Now, here's an excerpt from Trump's first address to Congress:
"Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force.Over 43 million people are now living in poverty, and over 43 million Americans are on food stamps.More than 1 in 5 people in their prime working years are not working.We have the worst financial recovery in 65 years.In the last 8 years, the past Administration has put on more new debt than nearly all other Presidents combined.We've lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was approved, and we've lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.Our trade deficit in goods with the world last year was nearly $800 billion dollars.And overseas, we have inherited a series of tragic foreign policy disasters."
Notice the difference in sentence structure? It seems as if the writers of Trump's speech realized that he is unable to speak in complex, understandable sentences, so they relegated him to small phrases made up of 7-9 plus words that translate to bullet points when spoken.

The reason this is worth pointing out is because it speaks to the fact that we have a guy in the Oval Office who does not understand the complexity of the job he was elected to perform. He lacks the awareness of nuance and can only speak in a manner suitable for Twitter, not for the Leader of the Free World.

Next, Trump made many claims throughout his speech that when fact-checked, turn out to be untrue or slightly true, but also misleading. When Trump takes credit for being a job creator, taking credit for bringing jobs from Ford, Fiat, Intel, and others back to the American people, what he's not telling you is that in many cases, these job increases were parts of plans that had already been in place for years. It seems crazy that Trump can take credit for Fiat-Chrysler jobs that have been part of an industrialization plan put in place last year to coincide with a 2015 deal with the UAW.

If I remember correctly, Trump was still nothing more than a celebrity millionaire with a reality show in 2015, toying with the idea of running for office, and was also still peddling the claim that President Obama was not born in America. His only connection to Fiat-Chrysler at the time might as well be that he owns multiple vehicles. But we know this is a trademark of the Donald Trump era - taking credit for something you literally had nothing to do with.

As quoted above, Trump stated that 94 million Americans "are out of the labor force." What Trump is trying to sell you is a scary number taken out of context with the intention of proving his campaign claim that "The unemployment rate may be as high as 42%." Trump is not telling the truth on a couple of levels. First, his 94 million number includes folks who are retired, are college students, the disabled, and stay at home parents. The majority of these folks have said they either didn't want or need at job at this time. This number that is meant to scare the public is simply not true, nor is it an indicator of a bad economy.

Now, how about that statement to work with members of both parties to create clean air and water? This one actually made me laugh, because literally in the hours before the speech, Trump signed an order rolling back the "Clean Water Rule." Also, it is being circulated that Trump intends to lay off nearly 20% of the people currently working for the EPA. Hardly seems like a sincere attempt to create clean air and water. Also, consider that Flint, Michigan has now gone over 1,000 days since they've had clean drinking water.

But perhaps the biggest moment of the evening and of Trump's speech is the one that made me sick to my stomach: he used the widow of fallen Navy Seal Owens as a political prop to sell his first military operation as a success. Trump went on to lie, saying that General Mattis confirmed that the operation in Yemen was a success that generated large amounts of intelligence. Now, we don't know if Mattis actually said this to Trump, but we do know that an overwhelming amount of military analysts and officials would not characterize this operation as a success. And let's be honest here, labeling a military operation such as this one, a success or failure is a false binary choice. It's hard to call an operation successful when it resulted in the death of a solider or civilians, or when a $90 million dollar aircraft had to be destroyed, or when a top leader of a terrorist organization escaped capture. There's no way the American people should accept the claim that this operation was a success, especially considering the way that this operation was handled.
From the start, it's disturbing that this president couldn't be bothered to interrupt his dinner with his son in law and Steve Bannon to go down to the Situation Room to observe the mission, instead spending the evening on Twitter. I think of the iconic photo of President Obama in the Situation Room, surrounded by the folks involved in the decision to green light the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The President was present, intent on being as close as he could be with the soldiers who risked their lives on his order.
That is leadership.

In the days following the raid, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, first said the raid was a success, then as details were released about the numerous civilian deaths, the destruction of the Osprey, failure to capture any valuable intelligence or enemy operatives, Spicer shifted his position, saying the operation was originally planned by the Obama administration. This shift was intended to place the blame on the outgoing administration, though it was clear that Obama never gave the green light on the operation, due to timing and insufficient evidence that the operation would be worth it. Trump seemed to jump on the first opportunity to give the green light to a military operation, an amateur move meant to convey an image of a decisive and strong Commander-In-Chief, though he clearly didn't even know or care enough about the operation to oversee it. Spicer then tried to sell the raid as an intelligence gathering operation. Another lie, as Seal Team Six is not the team that gets sent in for intel based missions. But even if that were true, what intelligence was gathered? Again, another lie comes from the administration as the Pentagon releases an instructional video of homemade bomb-making techniques believed to be recovered...that we already had in possession for over 10 years!
But now the story has shifted again, with Trump proclaiming this operation as a success, even after saying just yesterday morning that it was the Generals who lost Owens. When asked, he specifically said "they" lost him, shifting all the blame and responsibility to someone, anyone else. Later that evening, Trump used a moment in his speech to prop up a grieving widow in order to gain political points. It is sickening to see this woman being manipulated and used for the sole purpose of making Trump appear presidential. And even more sickening, the media is highlighting this moment to say that this is the moment where Trump became President.

The idea that a man who literally has no idea what he is doing, who got up in front of Congress and was able to read a prepared speech off of a teleprompter, written by someone else, and written in a manner suitable for a 3rd grader, has magically become Presidential, is the lowest possible bar we could set for what leadership looks like in this country. The media is giving him points for not insulting someone, as is his usual style. Are you kidding me?!?! Anyone could have gone up to that podium and given that is not an accurate measure of the ACTIONS Trump has taken in his first weeks on the job.

Last night, we saw an Adderall version of Trump, meant to appear as someone who could appeal to the masses. This is not an accurate portrayal of the man who sits in the Oval Office now, who gives in to every chance to jump on Twitter to spout libel about someone or something he doesn't like; the man who has spent more time Tweeting and golfing than in intelligence briefings, the man who gave the green light on a military operation in such a cavalier manner that he didn't even bother to stay up to hear the results of the raid.

I'm becoming more convinced that throughout this presidency, these addresses will mean nothing. Instead, we must look at the actions and the doings of this administration to see what is really going on. And what is really going on is an unhinged, power hungry man, looking to stoke his ego and expand his brand in any way possible, no matter the cost or who gets lost in his wake.