The Case of Brittney Griner: Homophobia is Not Just an Issue for Male Athletes

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by Evan Seymour

Brittney Griner is a beast. Yes, I called a woman a beast. As a fellow black female, I feel I am at liberty to do so. The 6’8 center towers above most of her competition. She is a force to be reckoned with. Griner is the first player in NCAA history, male or female, to score 2000 points and block 500 shots. She’s the hottest new player in the WNBA and a breath of fresh air in women’s sports. Griner also happens to be gay.

The three-time All American is the second professional athlete to come out as gay in the last several weeks. Well, really, she’s the first, but her story didn’t make big headlines like the story of Jason Collins.

Collins is the 34-year-old Boston Celtics player whose picture graced the cover of Sports Illustrated along with its history-making headline – The Gay Athlete. Griner’s revelation came in response to a Sport’s Illustrated writer’s question about sexuality and sports. The interview occurred several weeks prior to Collins’ cover story. Though Griner’s announcement didn’t get as much attention, it’s a significant moment nonetheless.

In an editorial published in The New York Times, Griner wrote about some of the difficulties of growing up gay.

“I never wanted to deny who I was, but dealing with the sadness and the anger that came from people constantly making fun of me wore me down at times,” Griner wrote.

The Phoenix Mercury player discusses Jason Collins, being bullied in middle school, and her efforts to encourage other people in the LGBT community.

Griner’s article includes a link to a spot she recorded for an organization called the “It Gets Better Project”.

In the video, she details being teased for things like her deep voice and the size of her hands. I’ve just finished reading her piece for the Times, so it’s easy for me to look past her statuesque build and see Griner’s hurt and fragility. Basketball is only a part of who she is.

“Be yourself, be different, be beautiful,” she says in her bass-filled voice. That is her message to others in her situation. Really, it’s an affirmation that anyone would benefit from embracing.

The editorial is a touching testimonial, and Griner should be lauded for her bravery and her commitment to being a role model. Only her story isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

Unfortunately, our society still marginalizes female athletes. Inherent in that marginalization is the misconception that sexuality isn’t as big of a deal for women as men, especially in the world of sports. The title of an April NYT article by Sam Borden pretty much sums it up – Brittney Griner Comes Out, and Sports World Shrugs.

Griner briefly addresses the issue in her NYT article. She says she has been asked about her feelings on the topic, and that she is “not at all bothered” that news of her “announcement” didn’t make a big public splash like the Jason Collins story.

Griner’s editorial and her work with the It Gets Better Project provide a vivid testimonial that it is important for America and the world to hear. Kudos to the NYT for providing her with the platform to tell her story! I hope it now gains more traction in the sports world.

Not spreading Griner’s story would be a disservice to our society. A terrible missed opportunity. Griner is an inspiration model to female athletes, the LGBT community, and anyone who has ever been uncomfortable in his or her own skin. She is a role-model to LGBT teens, a group with higher than average rates of bullying and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The only problem is Griner cannot be a role model if people do not know her narrative.

As a sports fan, I am critical of this “coming out” coverage because really, Griner is the more high profile athlete. I’m not minimizing Jason Collins, his career, or his spot in the history books as the first openly gay player in the NBA. But the truth is, only die-hard basketball fans knew of Collins before his Sports Illustrated cover story. Griner, on the other hand, is a record-breaking, No. 1 draft pick who was offered a coveted spot on the 2012 London Olympics women’s basketball team. Prior to the April 15 WNBA draft, Griner Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hinted that he may try and draft her to play for his team in the NBA.

The first female player in the NBA? I hope I live to see it happen.

Brittney Griner is one hell of an athlete and a champion for LGBT rights. I just hope the mainstream media and the world of sports journalism will let her get her shine on.


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