A’ja Wilson is one of the most well-known women’s basketball players in the country. Her list of accolades is long: Three-time All-American, two-time SEC Player of the Year, 2017 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, 2017 National Champion.
But despite being arguably the best women’s college basketball player in the nation, there was a side of Wilson that few people knew — until today.
On Saturday, Wilson penned a piece in The Players’ Tribune about her struggles with dyslexia and the impact the learning disability had on her growing up and through her college career.
In the article, she makes it clear that few people even knew and that was the way she preferred it. However, she thought it was more important for her story to be heard.
“I just kind of felt like it was the right time to release it,” she said. “This is a period of my life — this where my collegiate career is slowing coming to an end and I just felt deep down in my heart that it was okay for the world to know what I was battling with.”
Although Wilson still struggles with her dyslexia, her coach Dawn Staley never wanted her to feel ostracized because of it.
“I think A’ja, in dealing with dyslexia, you always think you’re less than,” Staley said. “You always think you’re a little bit different than everybody else because you don’t pick up on things as quickly. Your processes are just a bit different.”
In order to make her feel included, Staley had to get Wilson out of her comfort zone to confront the issue directly. During her sophomore year, the coach made her star player read scripture to the team before games — tapping into Wilson’s fear of public speaking.
“I try to hit my challenges head-on and I try to bring that mentality to our players,” Staley said. “I wanted her to face one of her challenges head-on and reading our scripture each and every game. She made mistakes at times and A’ja will tell you that she laughs at a lot of her mistakes that she makes when it comes to dyslexia and we laugh with her.”
By showing a glimpse into her private life, Wilson hopes that fans will understand that student-athletes are more than just people who play for their entertainment.
“I think people tend to get caught up in the Basketball A’ja and not understand that there’s a whole other side that they never really seen or met before,” she said. “Some people out here, they don’t have a clue what we go through.”
More importantly, having it come from such a high-profile athlete will help other people struggling with dyslexia and other learning disabilities know they aren’t alone.
“She is a beacon of hope for someone else,” Staley said. “A beacon of hope not just as a talented, skilled basketball player but as someone that deals with dyslexia every day.”
That support goes both ways for Wilson, too.
“I see the tweets from people saying that they go through it as well,” she said. “It’s good to know that you are not alone in it.”