Women’s Basketball Has a Dirty Little Secret: Bullying

By R. J. Moeller

There are certain narratives about discrimination and prejudice in our culture that do not lend themselves to any form of deviation.

Rich people mistreat poor people. White people aren’t comfortable with “people of color” moving into their neighborhoods. Straight kids bully the gay kids.

These formulas become easily recognizable to those who regularly follow the news or consume popular culture, unfortunately, because they actually do happen. Discrimination is real. Racism occurs. Bigotry exists.

But what happens when the script is flipped and the party we would assume to have been the oppressor becomes the oppressed? Do we have space left in our media — addled brains to process the possibility that anyone is capable of being a bully?

In 2008, Candice Wiggins was a star African-American basketball player from Stanford University who was selected #3 in the WNBA draft. After years of working incredibly hard to achieve her dream, Candice quickly discovered that all was not what it seemed in the professional ranks of women’s basketball.

From The San Diego Union Tribune:

“It wasn’t like my dreams came true in the WNBA. It was quite the opposite,” said Wiggins, the former La Jolla Country Day star who is being inducted into the San Diego Hall of Champions’ Bretibard Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
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” that she said still struggles for attention and legitimacy after 20 seasons in existence.”

Since announcing her retirement in 2016, Candice has slowly begun to speak out about her difficult experiences in the league.

“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 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,” Wiggins said. “The way I looked, the way I played — those things contributed to the tension.”

The reality of the situation when any former pro athlete claims to be giving the public a “peek behind the curtains” is that he or she ultimately can only share what they saw, heard and did. None of us know exactly what Candice Wiggins experienced. And there certainly has been pushback from current WNBA players who say that Wiggins is unfairly characterizing a “diverse” and “tolerant” atmosphere in the league.

But in my opinion, Wiggins’ claims about being bullied by lesbian players for being straight present us with an opportunity to step back and consider that the world may, in fact, be much more complicated than we (and professors of Gender Studies at your local community college) understand it to be.

The danger in imprinting inalienable archetypes of who the villains (or punch lines) in any social, racial or political conflict will be is that it becomes a form of prejudice itself.

Framing every television commercial so that the dad/husband onscreen is always an incompetent rube because, well, men “deserve it” and have made stereotyped portrayals women in the past is shortsighted. Forcing every film or TV villain to be the old, white (hypocritically), religious guy is not only distastefully biased, it’s creatively crippling for storytellers. News agencies and outlets refusing to cover police shootings or political corruption if the victims of such crimes don’t look a certain way robs us all of vitally important information with which free citizens of a republic make their “public square” decisions.

We aren’t intellectually or morally equipped to process a report like the one Candice Wiggins claims to be giving. It’s not politically correct to even contemplate the possibility that gay women would be able to bully a straight one.

The culprit here is the misguided idea that the worst thing about bigotry is that some groups of people have exhibited it over a long period of time toward other groups of people. But that’s wrong; the worst thing about bigotry is bigotry. The length of time the bigotry in question has been perpetrated is not inconsequential, but to make it the focal point of your argument in favor of ending it will inevitably come back to haunt you.

If Candice Wiggins’ claims are accurate, the issues she’s raised should be addressed by the league (and sports media covering it) regardless of the sexual orientation of those involved. Only that, not tiptoeing around politically correct sensibilities, will stop prejudice and bullying


Originally published at acculturated.com on February 24, 2017.