The WNBA has suspended and fined Connecticut Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller for his “inappropriate and offensive” comment toward Liz Cambage during the Sun-Aces game Sunday. Miller is now on the hook for $10,000 and will miss Connecticut’s contests against the Seattle Storm on Tuesday.
What was this “inappropriate and offensive” comment? Well, while trying to endear an official to give his team a call during the game Sunday, Miller said about Cambage, “C’mon, she’s 300 pounds.”
No, really, that’s what he said. He didn’t call Cambage a name. He didn’t say it to her directly. He said to a ref that she was 300 pounds in an offhanded way in an attempt to get a call. And if you were wondering, Cambage weighs 235 pounds and plays center, which is colloquially known as a “big” in basketball.
After the game, Cambage took to Instagram. In her two-minute video, she says a lot, including, “I will never let a man disrespect me, ever, ever, ever, especially a little white one,” as well as other insults directed at Miller, mostly for his size as a small man, and says he was lucky the incident happened during a game while she was busy doing her job.
Miller has issued an apology through the Sun.
“During last night’s game, while arguing a call with an official, I made an inappropriate and offensive comment in reference to Liz Cambage’s height and weight,” he said. “I regret what I said in the heat of the moment and want to sincerely apologize to Liz and the entire Aces organization. I understand the gravity of my words and have learned from this.”
This is just so bad on so many levels, it’s tough to know where to begin.
Miller did not say anything to Cambage. At no point did he talk to her. What he said was to the ref, though apparently loud enough for Cambage to hear, and was aimed at getting a call. Cambage is big, which she acknowledges in her video and would be impossible to ignore – it’s part of why she is so damn good at basketball – and Miller was remarking on her size to convince an official of his position. I have officiated basketball at low levels, and I have also been around plenty of basketball at much higher levels. It’s pretty routine to coaches to work refs for calls in a similar fashion, remarking on an opposing player’s size and implying they’re either getting calls or not getting calls for that reason. It’s especially normal in a professional setting where the stakes are so high.
Miller did not call Cambage a slur. He did not insult her. He used a round number to exaggerate her weight by 65 whole pounds, presumably because he wasn’t memorizing the weights of his opposition in pregame warmups. If he had said, “C’mon, she’s 235 pounds,” would things be different?
Is it possible Miller said it loud enough for Cambage to hear in an attempt to trash talk? Maybe. But Cambage has a strong track record of talking trash.
In 2019, Cambage and the Chicago Sky got feisty during a game, and the tension was palpable. After the heated affair, Allie Quigley said that Cambage called Stephanie Dolson a “fatass,” which Dolson corroborated. Cambage denied it and insulted Dolson’s physical appearance in her denial.
Whether Cambage said “fatass” or not isn’t entirely the point, though it’s especially hypocritical if she did. It’s well known that Liz Cambage enjoys talking trash, and she even says so in her video response to Curt Miller. There is certainly a different dynamic between players talking trash and a coach talking trash to a player, but a player can still respond through beating a coach’s team and making them look silly through competition, the same way they could to another player or a trash-talking fan, so something can be done on the court. And this is of course assuming that was Miller’s intent, which we don’t know, and given the setting, it’s perfectly reasonable that wasn’t the case.
Now consider Cambage’s reaction. Even if you have an issue with what Miller said, it has absolutely nothing to do with sex or race, but Cambage brought both of those things into it. Does this mean that if a female coach, or a Black female coach in particular, had said the exact same thing that it wouldn’t have been a problem? If no one can make any form of comment about someone’s size or weight, then what difference does it make who says it?
And why is it okay for Liz Cambage to mock Curt Miller for his sex and race? Miller can be belittled for his sex and race and there’s no suspension or fine for Cambage? We don’t know what Miller makes exactly as teams don’t release that information, but I imagine it’s not so much that losing $10,000 is a drop in the bucket. So, Miller has to take abuse for being a physically small man while losing out on a good chunk of his salary while Cambage is made out to be the victim, and he has to apologize for it.
Perhaps the most laughable (and saddest) aspect of his all is how terribly stereotypical it is. One of the common and damaging sexist tropes against women is being sensitive and emotional, especially about weight. The WNBA is always working to fight against this and promote itself and its athletes as tough, talented, and hard-working, because it knows this is one of the main roadblocks it must overcome. And then the league comes out with a decision like this, stating that an offhanded comment to a ref trying to get a call that exaggerates a player’s weight by 65 pounds is worthy of a hefty fine, a suspension, and requires apologies and statements abound. This feels like something Raymond Tortuga would write about.
WNBA players have long staked their claim for why they deserve equal pay, attention, and treatment to the men in the NBA, and they’re right. Coupling that with this, which can only be seen as coddling to an insane degree, doesn’t work. If you want to be on even footing with NBA players, then a situation like this cannot be turned into what it’s become. These are professional, high-level athletes. Emotions and tensions run high. People are playing, coaching, officiating, and team managing for their livelihoods. You cannot sanitize professional sports to this degree. You just can’t.
The bottom line is, you would never see this in the NBA. Ever. Either professional men’s and women’s basketball are equal or they aren’t. It can’t be both. And if you argue that this sort of situation shouldn’t be tolerated in the NBA either, I commend you for your consistency but strongly disagree. Sports are competitive and intense. People will say and exaggerate things to get an edge. As long as it doesn’t cross the line of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., then I see no issue. And Cambage doesn’t seem to either when she’s the one doing the talking.
I am a supporter of the WNBA and women’s basketball. You can look back at countless articles on this website on the WNBA, from describing the league’s history to covering current events and more. I enjoy the league and have for years. You can also see all the coverage of women’s basketball Nothing But Nylon has done over the years. The players, the WNBA, and women’s basketball as a whole deserves much more respect and recognition than they get, and it’s fantastic to see the improvements in those areas the last few seasons, with plenty more still yet to be done.
Don’t get it twisted: this is not a sexist rant from someone who doesn’t care about women’s basketball and only brings it up once or twice a year to disparage the game and its athletes. It’s quite the opposite. I wrote this because I care.
I know there are plenty of people who will vehemently disagree with me about this, and that’s fine. I’m open to hearing from them, and perhaps I can have my mind changed. But right now, I find the way the WNBA has handled this situation between Curt Miller and Liz Cambage to be absolutely comical.