Bullying And Stereotypes In The WNBA
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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The new WNBA season is approaching. And the good news - viewership is up.
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UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: Hodges to get it in; Angel for the win.
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UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #2: No - Ogwumike denied. Another chance - it's good.
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #3: This is Wiggins with 3.
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #4: How about that?
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #3: Someone's going to have to fire quickly. Got it. She did it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But 20 years after its founding, the WNBA is still dogged by age-old stereotypes about women athletes. In today's edition of Out of Bounds, our weekly conversation on sports and culture, we talked with ESPN writer Mechelle Voepel about the outrageous comments about sexuality and bullying made by one of the league's biggest stars, Candice Wiggins.
Mechelle, thanks for being with us.
MECHELLE VOEPEL: Glad to do it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the reason we're talking about this with you is because of what you said troubles you about this controversy. Can you tell us what you think is so disturbing about how this has played out?
VOEPEL: I think a big part of it is that she made really sweeping allegations about the entire league, all the coaches, by saying that she was bullied throughout her eight years and that this bullying was the result of her being heterosexual and, as she put it, proud to be a woman. And this was her not just talking about her, I guess, experience - she was saying this was a league-wide culture that went on for the entirety of her time in the WNBA.
This was a single-source story. Candice was the only person who was saying these things. It was in the San Diego Tribune-Union (ph), and then it just got picked up by every media outlet. And it just strikes me that this happens a lot with women's athletics in particular. People who don't cover the WNBA, who never give it any attention as a sport, then if they sense that there's some sort of - you know, I guess - salacious story, they pick it up and then they don't put it into any context and don't attempt to do that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should say there doesn't seem to be any evidence that what Candice Wiggins said is true.
VOEPEL: Nothing that I have been able to uncover or anything that's been told to me by any of the players, past or present, that I've contacted - and I haven't seen anyone, you know, post any tweets or anything that would support what she said.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think it plays into stereotypes that are already out there about female athletes?
VOEPEL: Oh, absolutely. You know, I think if you go back through the whole history of women's athletics - in particular if we want to look at women's athletics in the United States - there were always been barriers put up for women participating in athletics, the idea that it would somehow impact their femininity or their sexuality in some way. Those have always been up there.
And then other barriers too, obviously, about, you know, what events they could take part in and what was too strenuous for them. Women, over the past, you know, hundred years have had to go through all these different hoops in order to - just to compete, things that men and boys never have to do.
And the other thing about this is that it - I just have to say, this sort of demonizes LGBT people. Again, the idea that they were in this league as sort of predators and people who were mean to straight people and, you know, had formed their own kind of culture - I think those are really damaging stereotypes. And there's been nothing that I've seen in covering the league since it started that would corroborate those.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So damaging stereotypes, a controversy - how did the WNBA itself respond? Was it an adequate response in your view?
VOEPEL: It took too long, I think. And that's - again, as somebody who's covered the league since it started, it's been kind of a consistent frustration that I've had with the league that they tend to be pretty tardy, in my estimation, at times of responding to stories that they - may be, you know, either are negative or they perceived to be negative.
And, you know, in this case, I think people were waiting for the WNBA to defend its culture because that's what she was maligning in her story, and so the players all did that. And yet the WNBA didn't put out its statement until later in the week. Why? You know, why didn't they have a statement out on Monday? And I think they should defend themselves more vigorously.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ESPN's Mechelle Voepel - she writes about women's basketball.
Thanks so much for being with us.
VOEPEL: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.