Candice Wiggins called her experience playing in the WNBA "toxic," a major reason the former No. 3 draft pick says she abruptly retired at age 29 last year.
In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune published Monday, Wiggins called the culture in the league "very, very harmful" and said she was targeted throughout her eight-year career for being both heterosexual and popular nationally.
"I wanted to play two more seasons of WNBA, but the experience didn't lend itself to my mental state," Wiggins told the newspaper. "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 said she was treated poorly by a majority of players in the league from the day she was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx in 2008 after a notable career at Stanford.
"Me being heterosexual and straight and being vocal in my identity as a straight woman was huge," Wiggins told the Union-Tribune. "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."
In a follow-up interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune on Tuesday, Wiggins said she meant to use the 98 percent figure as an illustration rather than fact.
There is no published data on the number of gay players in the league.
After multiple attempts to obtain a statement from the WNBA, a spokesman said the league would not be commenting on Wiggins' allegations at this time.
"People were deliberately trying to hurt me all of the time," Wiggins said. "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.'"
Los Angeles Sparks forward and WNBA Players Association president Nneka Ogwumike said in a statement that the allegations should be "taken seriously."
"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," Ogwumike said.
Chicago Sky center Imani Boyette wrote an open letter to Wiggins on her website, saying Wiggins' claims were a damaging reinforcement of stereotypes.
"Do you understand what you've done? You've reinforced unfair stereotypes," Boyette wrote. "A person's orientation is their own and their business. Now, because of your article, it is no longer out of bounds to ask WNBA players about their sexuality. Do they ask any male stars in the NBA about their sexuality? Is it even a conversation?"
Boyette is married to University of Texas defensive lineman Paul Boyette Jr.
Wiggins went on to play for Tulsa, Los Angeles and New York after five seasons in Minnesota. She called her experience playing abroad when the WNBA was out of season "incredible" and something that made her stronger.
"I want you to understand this: There are no enemies in my life," Wiggins told the newspaper on Tuesday. "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.
"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."
Wiggins told the Union-Tribune that she is writing an autobiography about her experiences in the WNBA. She also is training to become a pro beach volleyball player.