Candice Wiggins described what she said was a “very, very harmful” culture in the WNBA — one in which she contends she was bullied throughout her eight-year career. She also described the discouragement she felt being a part of a “survival league.”
Candice Wiggins had what many would consider a dream career in the WNBA.
The former Stanford standout was the third player drafted in 2008. She was voted the league’s Sixth Woman of the Year as a rookie. She won a championship with the Minnesota Lynx.
The success, Wiggins divulged, hid a darker reality.
“It wasn’t like my dreams came true in the WNBA. It was quite the opposite,” she said.
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For the first time in an extensive interview, Wiggins described what she said was a “very, very harmful” culture in the WNBA — one in which she contends she was bullied throughout her eight-year career. She also described the discouragement she felt being a part of a “survival league” she said still struggles for attention and legitimacy after 20 seasons in existence.
Wiggins, who turned 30 last Tuesday, announced her retirement in March while considering a contract extension from the New York Liberty — her fourth WNBA team.
“I wanted to play two more seasons of WNBA, but the experience didn’t lend itself to my mental state,” Wiggins said. “It was a depressing state in the WNBA. It’s not watched. Our value is diminished. It can be quite hard. I didn’t like the culture inside the WNBA and, without revealing too much, it was toxic for me. … My spirit was being broken.”
Wiggins, a four-time All-American at Stanford, asserts she was targeted for harassment from the time she was drafted by Minnesota because she is heterosexual and was a nationally popular figure, of whom many other players were jealous.
“Me being heterosexual and straight, and being vocal in my identity as a straight woman was huge,” Wiggins said. “I would say 98 percent of the women in the WNBA are gay women. It was a conformist type of place. There was a whole different set of rules they (the other players) could apply.
“There was a lot of jealousy and competition, and we’re all fighting for crumbs. The way I looked, the way I played — those things contributed to the tension. People were deliberately trying to hurt me all of the time. I had never been called the B-word so many times in my life than I was in my rookie season. I’d never been thrown to the ground so much. The message was: ‘We want you to know we don’t like you.’ ”
There is no published data on the percentage of WNBA players who are gay. In a 10-team league that employs 120 players annually, at least 12 current and former players have come out publicly in various forms of media.
Of the league as a whole, Wiggins said, “Nobody cares about the WNBA. Viewership is minimal. Ticket sales are very low. They give away tickets and people don’t come to the game.”
The WNBA, whose teams are subsidized by the NBA, said after the 2016 season the announced average attendance of 7,655 was its highest in five years. (Attendance peaked at 10,800 in 1998.)
Wiggins enjoyed a strong start to her WNBA career, averaging 15.7 and 13.1 points per game, respectively, in her first two seasons. But in the eighth game of her third year, in 2010, she suffered a torn Achilles tendon that sidelined her for that season.
Wiggins returned in 2011, and her Minnesota team captured its first WNBA championship, but she was limited to a backup role and averaged 5.9 points per game.
In her eight seasons, Wiggins averaged 8.6 points after averaging 19.2 at Stanford.
The Achilles injury was one of eight for which Wiggins required surgery. She has attributed some of the physical breakdowns to an arduous schedule of playing in Europe in the offseason to supplement her pay in the WNBA. Wiggins played on pro teams in Spain, Turkey, Israel and Greece.
Back home, Wiggins kept on playing in the WNBA, she said, more for the people around her and the fans. She played her final three seasons for three different teams — Tulsa, Los Angeles and New York.
“There were horrible things happening to me every day, and that connection to the outside world kept me going,” she said.