SMW Q&A With Candice Wiggins

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Sports Media Watch had a chance to speak to Lynx G Candice Wiggins on Thursday, in advance of her appearance at Friday’s Ivy Sports Symposium at Princeton. Topics of conversation include the most pertinent issues facing college athletes, the state of the WNBA, and the objectification of female athletes.

SMW: You’ll be participating in the Ivy Sports Symposium [on Friday], talking about college athletics. What do you think is the most important issue facing college athletes today?

Wiggins: I think that for me, playing at Stanford I got to look at a really wide spectrum of the college experience. Now, I’m finishing my degree this year, so I’ve gotten to be what most student-athletes aren’t during their career — which is a student. I’m just a student now, so I can really see full circle what is going on in college.

I have to really compliment the NCAA for definitely doing a great job and helping people in their pursuit of athletics and academics. What I find is there’s a void missing between the student athlete and the transition into the next life, life after college. And that’s not just for student athletes, it’s for all students. But especially student athletes, because for four years we’re so focused on one sport, on achieving the highest success as an athlete. Sometimes what happens is there is a disconnect with what they want to do outside of college.

I know there’s commercials that run during tournaments, about ‘all of us are going professional in something other than our sport.’ To me, that’s the biggest issue. Just figuring out a way to get athletes to transition their minds into the next stage of their lives. It’s not for a lack of trying, but that’s definitely something I see — and that’s probably the only thing I see.

SMW: You praised the NCAA, and I was wondering what you thought of the issue of college athletes making so much money for universities, but not getting compensation themselves.

Wiggins: That’s a hot topic nowadays, but when I was in college we really didn’t talk about it that much. It’s obviously a controversial subject, because a lot of people think that it takes away from the integrity of college sports. I can definitely see where both sides are coming from.

Maybe there should be a student athlete union, an NCAA players union, where the ideas and feelings of college students are represented in a way where we all work together. That’s the only real conclusion I can come with; I can’t say we should start paying and compensating athletes, because a lot of people feel like, ‘well, they’re getting college paid for’, so it’s kind of a fair exchange. It’s kind of hard to say. And then, afterwards, when people are professional athletes and professional business people, they’re always linked with schools.

It’s a lot to talk about, it’s a lot to debate. I’d be interested to see what other people say about that. I think personally, as a former student-athlete, I think it would have been awesome to have a union, have a players’ union, and not like in a ‘we want rights, we want money’ — just so our voices are heard. I know there’s a lot of my friends who are still playing, and they just want their voices to be heard.

SMW: You’re in the WNBA, and you have been now for three seasons. Before you got into the WNBA, how much did you follow the league? Were you a fan?

Wiggins: Yeah, I was a fan. I was kind of in a special generation of young girls who saw the league develop, who saw it created — who saw a dream in front of them, right in front of their eyes, evolve. I would call myself even a diehard fan of the league, from the inception.

Nowadays, young girls, they were born into a WNBA world. But I was definitely born into a ‘there’s never going to be a WNBA’ kind of world. For me, it goes beyond just watching it and following the players in it. I just love what it represents and the kind of hope that it instilled in my life. It’s a very personal feeling. I think a lot of players share the same thing as me.

I think recently, being a college player and really kind of seeing, I’ve been watching it from a different kind of seat. How do I fit in, what kind of mark will I make on the league.

SMW: Since your first year in the WNBA, the league has lost the Comets and Monarchs, and the Shock have moved from Detroit to Tulsa. Those three teams have combined for eight of the league’s fourteen titles. With that kind of instability, how do you really categorize the state of the league today?

Wiggins: I categorize the state as wonderful, awesome. I was fortunate enough to go to an NBA forum where the sponsors of the NBA came. I met David Stern there. It was a social event, and it was really fun. It was really fun to talk to him, and kind of feel his love and commitment to the WNBA. That’s really where it comes from. Our strength comes in the formation of it, which is — it’s David Stern, the Commissioner of the NBA.

Obviously, it’s not where it can be, but that’s kind of a good thing. It makes me feel as though I’m still part of that pioneer era, of getting people to buy in and understand why the league is so great, why it’s not the NBA, and why that’s not such a bad thing.

SMW: It seems like criticism of the league is so commonplace and so mainstream, and a lot of it comes from mockery and things of that nature. Sometimes it does seem like there’s a widespread lack of respect for the league, it’s players, and what you guys are trying to do. What do you think the WNBA can do to counteract that, and do you think a lot of that is just sexism?

Wiggins: Absolutely, it’s sexism. But, this is how I think the WNBA can counter — because I’m not really a problem kind of person, I’m a solution-oriented person, and I’m very optimistic. So this is how I see it. What the WNBA can do is just keep doing what they’re doing and keep existing. The fact that it still exists and is still standing there, it’s almost like the world has given you their best shot and their best punch, and you just take it, and you’re still standing there. To me, that’s even scarier than fighting back or pushing back or anything like that.

So I don’t think the WNBA needs to do anything except doing what it’s doing — which is standing strong, and keeping all the people who are following it, and loving it, and appreciating it, and understanding what it means, there.

Me personally? I’m a little bit different. I’m kind of like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X at the same time. I would like to do my part — and right now, I’m injured, my Achilles injury — but as soon as I am healthy, I would love to challenge men to a game of one-on-one. And not just random men; there’s actually a really famous rapper named Mack Maine, he’s actually really awesome, I listen to his songs. I caught this interview that he was saying how the new rapper Nicki Minaj, and her place in hip-hop, and how she can compete with guys. I feel like it’s the same with women’s basketball.

He even said in the interview, I don’t care what girl it is, WNBA or anybody, no girl is ever going to beat me in the game of basketball. That’s what I do, basketball, and he’s a rapper. So I Twitter challenged him and I really want to do that. I really want to play one-on-one. I know I’ll beat him. And that’s all we can do, just one-by-one. I don’t like comparing us to the men’s game, but I know one thing — I would never challenge Kobe [Bryant] or any of those other guys to a one-on-one game, they’d kill me. But guys who don’t really understand the level that we’re at? I would love to play them and beat them.

And I’ve done that, I grew up playing against all guys. My brother, Jared Dudley who plays with the Suns now was like my big brother, we played on the same team for years. I played right there with him, I was the leading scorer on my guys team — not like little boys’ rec ball, I’m talking about national tournaments that we won first place in. I played against lots of guys in the NBA. I remember playing against [Glen] ‘Big Baby‘ [Davis] from the Boston Celtics when I was 13 and 12, Garrett Temple who now plays for the Spurs, like I said Jared Dudley, Marcus Williams who went to UConn, Demarcus Nelson who went to Duke — and it was really a competition.

A lot has changed, ten years ago, obviously, but what that taught me was that I am awesome. And women are awesome when they play. It’s like comparing women’s tennis to men’s tennis. You can’t really do it, but you can appreciate both. That’s all I’m saying. To me, that’s where the battle is, and it’s kind of a fun battle. We’re the underdog, and there’s nothing wrong with being the underdog.

SMW: With the status of female athletes in this country, it seems like in order for a female athlete to be fully accepted, she has to be objectified in some way by the sports media, the sports fandom in general. What do you think of that objectification of athletes like Danica Patrick, or Maria Sharapova, and the idea that female-skewing sports should market the attractiveness of their players?

Wiggins: I think that there’s a certain paradigm that occurs in sports when it comes to women. There’s a certain paradigm that comes to women in America. Look at the history of America. It’s not just a new phenomenon in sports. You look at feminism and how women have evolved just in a hundred years in America. You would be astonished at some of the things. I’m taking a class on the American sixties, that’s why I’m talking about the history — we actually just had our class on Tuesday about feminism, and women’s role in the sixties.

Since the dawn of creation, women have been objectified. It’s not a new thing. What I would hope is that we could create a new paradigm in women’s sports. You mentioned Danica Patrick, I think of Serena Williams, Anna Kournikova, especially tennis — obviously it’s a different kind of sport than basketball. Women are going to be objectified.

I’m really just for respect, whatever happens off the court, and whatever a woman wants to represent for herself, she should be respected on the court with what she does, her craft. I think that as long as we can get that across — a woman can obtain utmost respect in her field, or in her craft — if she’s still objectified in that regard, I feel like we’ve still won. If I’m objectified for whatever reason, for the way I wear my hair, or fingernails or lipstick, as long as people respect what I do and are inspired by what I do, I think all the other stuff doesn’t matter.

Especially in the sports world. Because women have just been fighting just for that respect, the objectification is kind of the next battle. To me, that’s really a personal choice. Because as you know, there are some women who don’t mind being objectified. I’m not condoning or supporting either one. I just think that it’s about respect.

For information on the 2010 Ivy Sports Symposium, visit www.sportssymposium.org.

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