Politics & Government

‘I’ll clap back’: A’ja Wilson takes on ‘trolls’ and the pay gap in return to Columbia

A’ja Wilson, the public speaker, shares the story about the LeBron tweet

A'ja Wilson was the keynote speaker for the Women's Rights and Empowerment Network event in Columbia.
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A'ja Wilson was the keynote speaker for the Women's Rights and Empowerment Network event in Columbia.

A’ja Wilson is already a national champion with the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team. But when the WNBA player came home to the Columbia area on Monday, she was a champion of another cause: pay equity for female athletes.

Wilson was a featured speaker at a summit of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network. The former USC star and current forward for the Las Vegas Aces said she wants to use her platform to highlight the disparity in pay between men and women in professional sports.

“I’ll push the envelope,” Wilson said. “I might say things you don’t agree with.”

Wilson is no shrinking violet. She’s outspoken on social media, challenging anyone who disrespects women’s sports in saying they are inferior to the men’s games.

“Why should I be disrespected as a woman for doing the same thing as a man is doing?” Wilson said. “And it’s usually trolls on social media.”

Wilson said she wants to see WNBA players receive a similar share of revenue in the league to the earnings their male counterparts get. NBA players have a 50 percent revenue-sharing agreement with the league versus 25 percent for the women.

“I can honestly say people know me more as the girl who tweeted at LeBron (James) about money than as a player for the Aces,” she said, in reference to a tweet she sent last summer about the NBA star’s $153.3 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I got people saying, ‘Stay in the kitchen. Why are you comparing yourself to LeBron James?” said Wilson, wearing a t-shirt that read “Bet on Women,” the slogan of WNBA players who have opted out of the league’s collective bargaining agreement to protest pay inequity.

“It goes a lot deeper than just wanting to get money,” Wilson said. “We just want to equal the percentages out.”

Wilson said she learned how to be more vocal about issues that matter to her during her junior year at USC, when she led the Gamecocks to the 2017 national championship.

“I learned to rally 13 girls to get along, to block the outside noise, and I found my voice can carry,” she said.

Former USC women's basketball star A'ja Wilson and her new coach with the WNBA's Las Vegas Aces, Bill Laimbeer, talk about what the No. 1 draft pick still has to learn about playing in the pro ranks.

Finishing up her rookie season, Wilson said she’s currently focused on improving her game and on other opportunities to speak out. She said she isn’t thinking right now about running for office.

“I will definitely be involved in my community,” she said. “I don’t know about public office, but ... I want to be there for the people who watched me grow up.”

A native of Hopkins, Wilson’s family attended the conference and even asked about her game during a question-and-answer session. She said having a supportive personal life is what makes her confident enough to speak out.

“My boyfriend is really behind me,” she said. “And he tells me when to bite my tongue. He says ‘chill out, they’re just trolls.’”

And to the “haters” and “trolls,” Wilson doesn’t intend to back down.

“I’ll clap back when I need to,” she said.

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Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.