Former WNBA star Candice Wiggins recently explained her premature and abrupt retirement, citing that the culminating “toxic” culture of the league was too much for her broken spirit and mental state to continue playing.
Following her notable career at Stanford, the former No. 3 overall pick played eight seasons professionally—earning a variety of league-wide accolades along the way as well as a championship with the Minnesota Lynx. Additionally, her playing career found her with Tulsa, Los Angeles, New York, and abroad internationally during the WNBA offseasons.
Despite outwardly living her dreams of playing basketball professionally, inwardly she found her emotional reality to be more of a nightmare, calling the league culture “very, very harmful” as reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
"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."
As a popular outspoken heterosexual woman in the WNBA, she claims that she had an additional target on her back for being an anomaly in a culture of conformists.
"Me being heterosexual and straight and being vocal in my identity as a straight woman was huge," Wiggins continued telling 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."
Add to the list of frustrations: a torn Achilles tendon and a litany of surgeries that saw her point-production-average spiral from her rookie and sophomore seasons; an underperforming subsidized league that barely makes ends meet; the constant comparisons with male players on the court mixed with contentious opinions of how a WNBA player should behave, look, and act off the court. For Wiggins, what she found was a disheartening environment where the sum of her cynics and circumstances suffocated her desire to keep playing.
Given her disconcerting comments and vision of such a dark experience in the WNBA, it’s not surprising that others in and around the league offered up very different and contrasting opinions about their own perception and experience in the league.
Indeed, it’s been hard to find anyone corroborating Wiggins’ testimony to the media, but it’s apparent that at least from Wiggins’ perspective, her personal growth was constantly challenged by the environment.
With her story as a backdrop, it’s worth asking and reminding ourselves: How does a person grow (personally, professionally, physically, relationally, spiritually, etc.) and flourish in any environment, much less thrive in one in which discouragement and dejection run rampant?
Philippians 4:8-9 (MSG) suggests, “You’ll do best by filling your minds on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” An environment that encourages us to think on the good is always helpful.
Additionally, surrounding oneself with like-minded, life-giving individuals (as well as podcasts, sermons, scripture, songs, etc.) who daily help encourage and challenge us to become more like Christ will help accurately shape our perspectives and views.
Rather than conforming to the culture’s opinions, comparisons, and contrasting beliefs (see Romans 12:2; Galatians 6:4), we can remain internally at peace and flourish regardless of external circumstances, comments, or critics.
Whether playing in a challenging women’s professional basketball league or teaching math at an under-resourced elementary school; whether surviving a challenging semester of college classes or the first year of being a new parent; whether navigating the discouragement of realizing your friends don’t really share your worldview or the understanding that you’re best years are in the rear-view mirror, the ultimate antidote is always the same: God’s word and God’s people.
I can meditate on God’s Word and let the truth of it comfort me in the midst of difficulty, reminding myself in the darkness what was true in the light. And I can get with other like-minded Believers who God can use to speak words of life.
It doesn’t change the circumstances, but it’s a proven formula that can provide life in the midst of them!