Nicholas Carlisle interviews Val Whiting, a former WNBA player, about her experience of growing up in Delaware and being doxed and trolled for standing up for female athletes online.
What was it like going to school in Delaware?
We moved to Wilmington, Delaware when I was in elementary school. We were coming from the suburbs and from the beginning I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t from the inner-city and the other kids recognized this. I was a lanky girl who liked to study. By the time that I got to Middle School I was six feet tall but I felt just four feet high because of the bullying.
Could you tell us about the bullying you experienced in Middle School?
I had my own personal bully. Every time I walked into the room he would yell “Donkey Kong”. Donkey Kong was an animated King Kong type of ape. And this boy was one of the cool kids. He was on the boys basketball team and really popular. And to this day I have trouble walking into a room. I know that must sound weird. But I have memories of everyone turning and laughing at me. You know how it is in middle school – there is a boy in eighth grade and they either have a mustache and a beard, or they have no hair at all. And this kid was already a man, six three with a deep voice, and there was no way I could stand up to him.
I let things build up inside of me. And then one day in eighth grade I lost it and got into a fight with one of the kids that was bullying me. I slammed him into onto the desks and we tore the whole classroom up. I’m not proud of it but I was a kid and I didn’t have the tools to deal with the bullying.
I thought that if I became a cheerleader the bullying would stop. So I tried out for cheerleading. I was this tall lanky kid and I had never tried out for cheerleading before. So they gave me some cheers and two weeks to practice them and come back before the committee. I practiced hard and honestly I thought I was good. But I didn’t make the team and I was really sad and upset. I thought this was my one chance to be accepted.
Later that week my math teacher, Mr. Prillman, noticed me and said “Val, why not try out for basketball?” I had never done sports before. The only sports I did was tag, but both my parents had played basketball. So I said yes, sure.
How did you manage to become a basketball star?
My dad took an interest in my learning to play. We would go out on Saturday mornings at 6 am and hoop. I hated it at first but I eventually started becoming good. I had it in my mind that I was going to show these bullies that I was somebody. A lot of my motivation in high school came from the bullying that I received in middle school. At college our team won two national championships and it was amazing going to Stanford and playing for a Hall of Fame coach. I didn’t realize how much bullying fueled my passion for basketball.
My time at college was beautiful and free of bullying. Sure there were some microaggressions but every person of color experiences that. I did experience some bullying in the national teams that I played for. My blackness was constantly under question. It’s tricky when you’re around white people because you don’t want to be too black and then when you’re around black people you’re not black enough. People would tell me that I was talking white and all of that.
How did you get started on TikTok?
Under the pandemic many people decided to engage in new things. I decided to go on TikTok to talk to athletes. I noticed that quite a few female athletes were getting harassed and bullied on their pages. So I would go to the comments and hype them up. I started calling myself the hype woman for the female athlete. I have dedicated my TikTok account to athletes and I have 115,000 followers, mostly female athletes but some boys as well. I do everything from offering mental tips for games to comedy. I even do dance sometimes.
By speaking up for girls I attracted bullies. One kid dedicated a whole TikTok video to trashing me. And because of that video, kids – mostly white boys – started coming to my TikTok account and Instagram account and bullying me. They accessed my Wikipedia page and edited it to write negative things. People were making videos about me and calling me the N-word. Someone hacked my TikTok account and pretended to be me and say mean things to kids. Then I was doxed. Someone posted my address and my phone online. Next I received threats that people would come to my house and get me. This was the summer of 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. It was a truly scary time.
My mind couldn’t wrap around why anyone would do this. TikTok was not good at responding to emails or messages. I was reporting these kids and nothing was happening. I was voiceless. I started praying for these kids as the only way I knew how. I ended up reaching out to the media and the media started reaching out to them and identifying some of these kids and taking down their videos.
Having been the target of online harassment, what do you think drives this type of behavior?
If you go on TikTok or Instagram and look at a female athlete’s posts, you’ll see comments saying you should stay in the kitchen and you suck and you don’t deserve equal pay etc. I don’t know what’s motivating these boys and causing the hate that they have inside. It makes me wonder who they are going to marry one day. [Val laughs] What are they going to tell their daughters? I’m still trying to figure out the motivation behind trolls. Is it because they want attention? Is it because they are angry? Is it that they want to be heard? It still puzzles me how someone can see an Instagram post and can’t just scroll past, they have to post something negative and be mean to that person
I’ve struggled with mental health issues on and off in my life. When I was playing basketball I took a season away from the stress of that to take care of myself. I revealed this in one of my TikToks. And because of that a kid reached out to me and said “I used to hate you because you were a WNBA player. But I saw that video and now I understand and you have helped me so much.” This makes no sense to me.
What’s your advice to young people who are trolled?
What helped me was remembering who I am and what is my purpose. I had people telling me to get off TikTok. “Why are you even on TikTok?” they would say. I had to remember what my mission was and who I wanted to help and why I was there. So if you’re being bullied, remember what your mission is. And if you don’t know it, try to figure it out, because we’re all here on this planet for some reason.
I believe we all have a bigger purpose than we realize. When I was being bullied on TikTok, attracting this negative energy, it told me that I was doing something right. But it really tested my faith. I want anyone who is being bullied to know how powerful they really are. You don’t feel powerful when you’re being bullied – but you do have a greater purpose on this planet.
Val Whiting is a former WNBA player, a two-time All-American and two-time NCAA Champion at Stanford University. She is generously donating proceeds from sales of her tee shirts and hoodies to Power of Zero which can be purchased here.