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.

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