Many of the familiar tropes used by critics of the WNBA were floated in an interview that the San Diego Union-Tribune posted on Monday, but this time, they came from the inside: former Minnesota Lynx guard Candice Wiggins. In comments that baffled much of the women's basketball world, Wiggins claimed she was forced into early retirement due to a lack of fan support and hostility toward her within the league that she attributed to her heterosexuality.
"I wanted to play two more seasons of WNBA, but the experience didn't lend itself to my mental state," Wiggins said in an interview done in conjunction with her enshrinement in the San Diego Hall of Champions Bretibard Hall of Fame. "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 also said, "I would say 98 percent of the women in the WNBA are gay women," and ascribed difficulties to that difference in sexuality: "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.'"
The comments came as a shock to many current and former WNBA players, who took to Twitter to register their objections.
Los Angeles Sparks forward and players' union president Nneka Ogwumike told VICE Sports in a statement: "Our union is only as strong as our loyalty to and support for one another. What is key to that loyalty and support is our commitment to diversity and inclusion. As a union, we should and we will continue to celebrate the diversity that makes us special and lead by example. We must respect the rights of those we don't agree with when they speak their mind. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the comments made recently by a former player or whether one has seen or experienced anything like what she has described, anything that impacts an inclusive culture should be taken seriously."
WNBA president Lisa Borders declined to comment through a spokesperson.
But so much about the Wiggins assertions did not compute. When Wiggins retired last spring, she pointed to the toll eight surgeries, including five on her knees, had taken on her body. She even revealed she'd fallen out of love with the game of basketball. But one thing kept her going, she said: "I haven't been playing professional basketball out of my own love, but instead, that of my fans, and all those who've supported me throughout a trying career. There's nothing I can do to express how thankful I am for the motivation. When times were difficult and I, again, found myself working to return to the court after an injury (but not knowing if I ever would), I'd think of my fans and how much they meant to me."
So it was strange to hear Wiggins say this in Monday's story: "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."
Leaving aside that this is demonstrably false and, in fact, trends are moving in the opposite direction (from ticket sales rising 4.6 percent last season to television ratings up 11 percent nationally), it's an odd trumpet of bitterness from a player who never spoke this way about the league during her career, while always eagerly speaking her mind.
It did raise some eyebrows when Wiggins revealed in the interview that she is working on an autobiography—and it is probably true that a book professing to reveal juicy details about the WNBA has a better chance of selling than one telling the broadly accurate story of a league engaged in slow, steady progress.
Still, it would be unfair to disregard a player asserting this, something reiterated by San Antonio Stars Monique Currie via her WomensBasketball247 Twitter account.