WNBA star Liz Cambage denies directing racial slur at Nigerian national team originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Los Angeles Sparks center and four-time WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage has denied recent allegations that she directed a racial slur at Nigerian players during a pre-Olympics scrimmage.
"The incident that took place during the pre-Olympic scrimmage with the Nigerian team was handled privately, almost a year ago," Cambage wrote in an Instagram post on Monday. "I am very disappointed and hurt by the events and accusations that have unfolded in the Australian media. The recount of what took place is inaccurate and misleading. I did not use the racial slur towards the Nigerian team that has been circulating."
The Daily Telegraph published a report over the weekend detailing a heated behind-closed-doors scrimmage between the Australian and Nigerian national teams that was held in Las Vegas last July ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The report cites two anonymous Nigerian players who allege that Cambage called the team "monkeys" and another who claims she told them to "go back to your third-world country" following a series of physical altercations.
According to the report, Cambage first elbowed a Nigerian player in the face while fighting for position under the basket. Later in the scrimmage, she got tangled up with another Nigerian player and slapped her in the face. Then, as Cambage was walking to the bench upon being subbed out, the Nigerian player who was slapped went on to punch Cambage in the head from behind. It was following the punch where Cambage was alleged to have made the offensive comments.
"After I unintentionally fouled a Nigerian player on the court I was then physically assaulted by this player on the sideline of my bench," Cambage wrote. "I was hit in the face and pushed to the ground but I walked away. Prior to the game I asked to sit out because I was concerned about my mental and physical health, which I have addressed publicly.
"We did not have professional referees to manage and prioritize both teams' safety during this highly physical scrimmage. This is not an excuse or justification to the events that unfolded or my actions, however, I feel that a full picture of the environment that led to this outcome must be shared."
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Cambage, whose father is Nigerian, wrote that she "genuinely apologized" for the incident, with the report saying she did so at a Nigerian team dinner the following day. But half the Nigerian team reportedly turned their backs on Cambage while she was speaking and some didn't feel the apology was sincere.
“I think it was bulls***. I don’t think it was a sincere apology," one Nigerian player said.
“Although she’s Australian, we knew she was half Nigerian so before then it was like she was one of us,” another player said. "That was another thing to cut deep, for her to do that and not show any remorse at all.”
Cambage withdrew from the Olympics shortly after the scrimmage, citing mental health reasons. She was formally reprimanded by Basketball Australia in November following an investigation.
The 30-year-old made headlines in December when she posted to her Instagram Story an email from Basketball Australia asking if she'd like to be considered for the 2022 World Cup team and commented that she had zero interest.
Then, earlier this month, Cambage took another public barb at Basketball Australia, this time saying her new WNBA team, the Sparks, protected her "on a level that the Opals or the Australian team never gave to me."
Former Australia captain Jenna O'Hea had a strong response to those comments.
"I can hold my head up high and say I always loved her, always cared for her, supported her, had her back," O'Hea said, via ESPN. "That is her reality and the listeners can believe what they want to believe. Everyone's done more than enough. We've sacrificed a lot to try and keep her in the program. She doesn't want to be here anymore. That's her choice and we need to move on without her."
O'Hea, who was a member of the 2020 Olympic team, said Cambage did tell the Nigerian team to "go back to your third-world country." She also believes Cambage has played her final game for Australia.
"I have taken responsibility and accountability for my involvement in what occurred," Cambage wrote. "... I truly hope that I can move forward from this incident and apply actionable effort to be my best self."