Women’s NBA star says players are brutally bullied for NOT being gay; toxic culture broke her spirit

Retiring after what seemed like a dream career in the WNBA, Candice Wiggins revealed the dark side of her success.

Wiggins described the “very, very harmful” culture in the WNBA  in an interview with the  San Diego Union-Tribune that was  published Monday. The 30 year-old, who announced her retirement after an eight-year career, said she was bullied for being heterosexual.

“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.”

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A four-time All-American at Stanford, the third pick of the 2008 WNBA draft and a 2011 champion, Wiggins revealed she was harassed throughout her WNBA career.

“It wasn’t like my dreams came true in the WNBA. It was quite the opposite,” she said.

“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.”

She pointed to the “jealousy and competition” as well as the comparison to the men’s league in which “you have to look like a man, play like a man to get respect,” she said. ” I was the opposite. I was proud to a be a woman, and it didn’t fit well in that culture.”

Wiggins was disheartened by the WNBA culture and the lack of attention it garnered, struggling with ticket sales and attendance. The average attendance for the 2016 season was  7,655 the WNBA said, its highest in five years after peaking at 10,800 in 1998.

For Wiggins, who suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon in 2010 that required surgery, the physical breakdowns were only part of the problem.

“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,'” she told the Tribune.

Wiggins, who played for the Lynx, Shock, Sparks and Liberty in her career, will be inducted into the San Diego Hall of Champions’ Bretibard Hall of Fame on Tuesday.

“I try to be really sensitive. I’m not trying to crush anyone’s dreams or aspirations, or the dreams of the WNBA. I want things to be great, but at the same time it’s important for me to be honest in my reflections,” she said. Some of those reflections will be shared in an upcoming autobiography she is writing, tentatively titled, “The WNBA Diaries,” based on her journals as a player.

She is looking ahead to a new career in pro beach volleyball, admiring the sport’s “celebration of women and the female body as feminine, but strong and athletic.” She is optimistic about her athletic future but dis not discount how the struggles with the WNBA made her “stronger.”

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“I want you to understand this: There are no enemies in my life,” she said.  “Everyone is forgiven. At the end of the day, it made me stronger. If I had not had this experience, I wouldn’t be as tough as I am.”

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