Skylar Diggins-Smith addresses maternity leave from Mercury: 'Now I can’t possibly be the villain anymore'

Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith during the first half of Game 1 of the WNBA basketball Finals against the Chicago Sky, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

With lingering questions surrounding her status for the 2023 season, Phoenix Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith addressed her absence from the team via X, the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter. She was seen practicing with Mercury legend Bridget Pettis in June but hasn't been able to train with the team, according to her comments.

The four-time All-Star started this season on maternity leave with her second child and has been away from the Mercury since. She celebrated her 33rd birthday Wednesday, leading a fan to note that Phoenix didn't publicly recognize the occasion.

"They’re not gonna acknowledge me this year and it’s ok guys," she wrote Thursday morning. "We’re not affiliated unless it’s the checks….per management. I can’t even use the practice facility or any resources. But I still love the X-Factor!!"

When Diggins-Smith's mention of exclusion from the Mercury's practice facilities raised questions, she elaborated she also doesn't have access to "any massage therapists, chiropractor, chefs, strength and conditioning, nutritionist accessibility, etc… [that] EVERY other player has access to."

She has been training consistently after welcoming her daughter — without the team benefits, according to her comments.

"However I’m still down 48lbs on my own and I’m feeling great," she wrote.

The league's maternity leave policy under the current CBA only requires guaranteed salary and medical benefits until the end of a player's contract or three months after the birth of the baby, leaving bonuses and non-salary perks to the discretion of teams.

Diggins-Smith becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season. Last season, she averaged 19.7 points in 30 games until she missed the final four matchups of the regular season due to personal reasons. She announced her pregnancy after the season ended.

A few months later, the Mercury's then-general manager Jim Pitman told reporters he expected to have her back for the 2023 season because she was under contract.

Diggins-Smith alluded to a shift in treatment after her pregnancy prevented her from playing.

"It was all good when I was leaving for personal time!!" she wrote. "But when I’m leaving bc I was having complications and scared of risking my child….while leading the league in minutes (pregnant). Trade her?"

Two-time Sixth Player of the Year Dearica Hamby was traded from the Las Vegas Aces to the Los Angeles Sparks this offseason, later saying her longtime team discriminated against her for being pregnant with her second child at the time. In May, Aces head coach Becky Hammon was suspended two games for comments on Hamby's pregnancy.

Thursday, Diggins-Smith shared a post which noted the legal protections pregnant women have as employees, something Hamby advocated for in her return to play less than three month after giving birth.

After commenting on her relationship (or lack thereof) with the Mercury, Diggins-Smith said she's "fine" with being kept away. "Now I can't possibly be the villain anymore," she wrote.

Her lack of access to the team facilities and staff is reportedly not connected to her maternity leave and due to her personal relationship with the organization, according to Arizona Sports reporter Sarah Kezele.

Late in the 2022 season, video emerged showing Diggins-Smith and teammate Diana Taurasi in a heated face-to-face exchange during a timeout huddle. A month before that incident, Diggins-Smith tweeted a clown emoji in response to comments from then-head coach Vanessa Nygaard.

The Mercury faced continued struggles in Diggins-Smith's absence. The team fired Nygaard in June after a 2-10 start and currently holds a 6-19 record.

Diggins-Smith told Essence in May she’s taking her time with journey toward returning from pregnancy. Based on her recent comments, that process will continue to take place away from the Mercury.