Top WNBA Draft Pick Brittney Griner Is Gay

Brittney Griner (L) and Elena Delle Donne (C) at the main ESPN Campus in preparation for tonight WNBA Draft. ((Photo: David Butler II, USA TODAY Sports)

Dapper Brittney Griner (L) and Elena Delle Donne (C) at the main ESPN Campus in preparation for tonight WNBA Draft. (Photo: David Butler II, USA TODAY Sports)

Brittney Griner is 6’8 with a 7’4″ wingspan. Brittney Griner set the NCAA record for blocked shots and earned two player of the year awards while playing basketball for Baylor University in Texas. Brittney Griner led her team to an NCAA-record 40 wins in 2012. Brittney Griner’s 18 slam dunks last year also beat an NCAA record, especially because only 18 other female players have ever made even one slam dunk. Were it not for family and school obligations that prevented her from going to London, Brittney Griner would’ve been the first college player on a US Olympics women’s basketball team since 1998. Brittney Griner is a two-time All-American. Two days ago, Brittney Griner became the 2013 WNBA Top Draft Pick when she was snatched up by the Phoenix Mercury. Oh, and she’s gay.

In an interview with USA Today on Monday, Griner spoke about bullying, coming out, and her bright future in the WNBA.

As a mega-tall gay tomboy with a “masculine presence,” Griner was often a target for bullies growing up: “I can’t help but cry when I talk about bullying, just thinking about the suicide rate. I know what those kids are going through.” Although she brushes it off now, she says that “when I was younger, it was tough.”

When I googled her name, the first thing that came up in auto-fill was “Brittney Griner man,” so I wasn’t surprised to read in her USA Today interview that she’s had to “brush off” quite a bit of gender-policing harassment on social media: “I heard, ‘Oh she’s in the right league now, she should have been in the NBA anyway because she’s a man, she has a penis.’ It’s ignorant, it’s stupid, but yeah, I read all of that. You can say mean things, but you’re doing it behind a screen. I don’t block them (on Twitter) unless they keep commenting. If you block them, then you give them the attention, that’s what they want. I’m not going to give them that thrill.

“I just feel like, who cares what they say. When you’re doing something good and you’re on top, someone’s always going to have something bad to say.”

Griner has been, for all intents and purposes, “out” for a while now, but according to ESPN, this week marked the first time she talked about her sexual orientation publicly. She told USA Today about (kinda) coming out to her parents: “My parents didn’t know at the time. I hadn’t come out completely. It was kind of like, YOU KNOW…I just hadn’t said it. My dad and my mom have always told me ‘be who you are.’ At the time (chuckling), they probably weren’t sure what I was interpreting that as.”

Griner’s awesomeness extends beyond the court: she’s a Jimi Hendrix fan and a passionate longboarder who wanted to be a professional skateboarder before she caught the basketball bug in high school. Also, her fashion icon is Ellen DeGeneres. A stylist from the Ellen Degeneres Show, Emmy-nominated Kellen Richards, designed the white suit Griner wore on draft day. Griner also sported Mercury-inspired orange socks and matching orange nail polish at the draft, which she noted would be “the first time and the last time I get my nails done.”

Griner at the White House

Griner at the White House

In a group interview on Sports Illustrated with the other top three draft picks, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, host Maggie Gray had more questions about Brittney’s sexuality:

SI Video host Maggie Gray: “Another big topic in sports recently is sexuality, especially with the NFL. In football it was rumored that maybe one or more players were going to come out–that would become huge news in the sports world and in general. In female sports, women’s sports, in the WNBA, players have already come out, and it’s really accepted. Why is there a difference between men and women in that issue?”

Brittney Griner: “I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are. Again, like I said, just be who you are. Don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because they’re always going to say something, but, if you’re just true to yourself, let that shine through. Don’t hide who you really are.”

Gray: “You’re in a different position where you’re not just a regular person, you’re a famous athlete, you’re the number one pick in the WNBA draft. How difficult was it for you to make the decision?”

Griner: “It really wasn’t too difficult, I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn’t hard at all. If I can show that I’m out and I’m fine and everything’s OK, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way.”

Gray: “The second part of what people talk about with the NFL is that a male player would be hesitant to come out because they’re worried about what the people in the locker room would say about it. If you guys were her teammates, how would you respond to it?”

Elena Delle Donne: “In our sport, we’re fine with it. We’re all friends, and I want everybody to be who they are. You shouldn’t have to lie, that’s not fair. Hopefully the men can one day adopt that same attitude that we have.”

Skylar Diggins: “Yeah, we don’t ask Brittney to bring the ball up the court. We like Brittney because she’s a post player and that’s what she does best. We like her because she’s herself. I think it’s the same, we don’t care, you know, it has nothing to do with basketball or how you play the game. I think that people need to realize that. And once we do that, we’ll start to figure out everything out in the world, maybe become a better place, if people start accepting people for who they are.”

While it’s certainly true that it’s easier for women in professional sports to come out than men, it’s still not quite that simple, nor has it always been so. When the WNBA launched in 1997 it immediately went on the offensive to avoid a gay image by marketing a pregnant, married Sheryl Swoopes to the public to put a heterosexual face on its league. Then, in 2005, when Swoopes announced that she was dating her Houston Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott, making her the only openly gay athlete playing a major professional team sport, many “saw Swoopes’ coming out as potentially harmful to the league and its family-friendly image and marketing.” (In 2011, it was announced that Swoopes was now engaged to a man.)

In 1998, The Advocate reported, “conventional lesbian wisdom on coming out in women’s basketball” is “Don’t do it. If you’re a coach you could lose your recruits, your job, and life as you know it. If you’re a player, you could lose everything. Dribble around the pronouns, though, and you’ll see nothing but net — net as in winning, net as in money.” Furthermore, “if you worship women’s hoops, you know that some of its most visibile figures in the media are the men who are married to the women stars” because “heterosexy sells.”

In 1999, security guards confiscated lesbian-themed signs from fans at a New York Liberty Game. In 2000, the Arco Arena broke with its tradition of flashing ticket-block-purchasing groups’ names on the Astrovision screen when the “Davis Dykes” bought a block, eventually talking the group into adopting the name “Davis Rainbow Womyn” in order to get their moment of recognition.

In 2000, the WNBA distributed a list of 28 married-or-engaged players to the press, a move that was interpreted by many as an effort to drive the point home that most of their ladies preferred male company. In 2001, author Mariah Burton Nelson noted, “[the WNBA] have bent over backwards to portray a family environment and family atmosphere, and family is always a code word for straight.”

In 2008, The Chicago Tribune reported that the WNBA has been “looking to give its players a makeover” and is giving rookies “lessons  in how to handle the media, how to stay fit and healthy — and how to wear clothes and makeup.” The article quoted Sports Psychology professor Susan Ziegler, who noted that the league’s “No. 1 [goal] is, of course, the need for the image of WNBA players to be seen as real women. That comes from the lesbian homophobia that surrounds women in sports in general.” Then in 2009, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics came under fire for not installing the popular Kiss-Cam used at other sporting events because “they don’t want to show lesbians kissing.”

According to our resident sports expert Brittani Nichols, Griner’s sexual orientation was common knowledge amongst basketball fans, but it’s possible that the WNBA has decided that “now is the time to actually capitalize on having gay players since being gay is now a ‘national issue.’”  Griner’s coming out could drum up interest in the league while shaming other professional leagues who aren’t so accepting of their gay  players — a complicated proposal considering that the WNBA, as aforementioned, has not been as accepting as it’d like it’s contemporary fans to think. As the most well-known player since Candace Parker, Griner could become the big gay face many WNBA fans have been waiting for.

Brittney-Griner-sfSpan

In 2001, Pat Griffin, a professor of Social Justice Education at U-Mass-Amherst, noted, “Women’s sports has been built on the backs of the hard work of lesbians at every level. Lesbians always have been a vital part of women’s sports. It’s long overdue to acknowledge that.”

With last year’s bevy of out female athletes at the U.S. Olympics and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Griner’s announcement this week, perhaps 12 years later, that time has finally come.

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Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1721 articles for us.

50 Comments

  1. Thumb up 3

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    Riese, thank you for this! I was wondering if/when AS was going to cover Griner. She is an amazing basketball player, but she deals with all sorts of bullshit regarding her size, deep voice, etc.

    Just an example: I was talking to a friend yesterday about the draft and one of the undergrads in his lab was like “she’s actually a man” and we both jumped on him for being stupid/a jerk. But this is constant. Even Google recognizes it, as you’ve noticed.

    Really all she is is a damn good bball player with great style. Haters are gonna hate, am I right?

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      sidenote, I had to fight my appreciation for Griner for the last two years because I am an avid ND basketball fan, so I’m glad she’s done at Baylor and I can just watch her WNBA career with no “are they going to beat us” qualms.

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      I haven’t followed women’s college bball very close so I don’t know if it lessened up but I remember when she was a freshman she got so much shit over her looks and voice. It was disgusting how people acted.

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      Also, the #2 and #3 draft picks (Elena Delle Donne from Delaware to the Chicago Sky, Skylar Diggins from Notre Dame to the Tulsa Shock) are both spectacular athletes to watch. Neither of them are gay, so far as I know, but Sky especially is changing the face of women’s basketball. Hell, Lil’ Wayne proposed to her on Twitter (and showed up to the ND/Baylor game this year).

      I hope women’s bball starts to get the recognition it deserves. I think these young women will help a lot.

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    Brittney is an excellent example of how transphobia and gender policing negatively impacts non-trans people as much as trans people. Cool that’s she’s come out and is getting all the success she deserves; not cool that idiots are still misgendering her and using transphobic (and racist) tropes in a pathetic attempt to belittle her.

  3. Thumb up 6

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    My dad’s shortest sister is 6’1, and they all have deepish voices, and they are all collectively obsessed with Griner. One of my aunts got really excited and has been making her daughter, my cousin, who is 5’11 at 16 (and very thin, and absolutely gorgeous; she has offers from modeling agencies all over the place), watch all of Griner’s interviews so that she has a positive female role model. I love that Griner is a such an amazing role model for so many different types of women.

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      Brittney is pretty amazing on a lot of levels… her skill, tenacity and athleticism. And while I understand how her body has a lot to do with the publicity surrounding her (or her playing center), I just hope that women would understand that talking about another women’s body, kind of as an object, might not feel good to the person being discussed. A lot of not-as-tall people assume that “tall is always good” but I’ve known a fair number of tall women and I can tell you they don’t always feel that way and many are pretty insecure about their bodies and womanhood. I’ve heard tall women say that constantly being reminded of their height and body parts isn’t that different from the messages someone fat constantly gets, even if the supposed intention might be from a different place. There are tall women who aren’t basketball stars or even vaguely athletic. I just wish women who constantly say “you’re so tall, you’re so tall” understood that these statements are about themselves, but are being dumped onto the person they’re commenting on (even when they think they’re delivering a compliment).

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        I really wish things weren’t like this. Why should we feel ashamed of the arguably neutral/positive qualities that set us apart? I feel like this happens a lot to women who have traits that are largely considered to be positive masculine traits. We get socialized from a young age that they somehow make us less of a woman, and we’re ashamed of them and try to hide them. Even when people do compliment us on them, we wonder if there’s some hidden insult. Or maybe they’re fetishizing us. We should be able to take a genuine compliment as a compliment without all of that baggage.

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          Aly, I totally agree with you about gendered qualities and bodies, but what I’m talking about is how women who wouldn’t dream of going up to another woman and saying “you’ve got a big ass” (which is a compliment in many cultures) or “you’re so tiny” but wouldn’t think (literally) twice about going up to a woman who’s tall and commenting on her body as though the other person should always feel okay about it. The intention is really kind of irrelevant, you’re still putting someone’s body over their character, skills and intelligence and, yes, in some way objectifying them largely because of some aspect about yourself and your own body you feel self-conscious about. That’s my point.

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      Is it just me or did that video say “here’s one thing that makes Brittney Griner so great at basketball…Her size!” and then they only talked about height/size related aspects..not anything to do with talent/skill/hardwork/practice/mental toughness etc.
      Something about that video just struck me wrong.

  4. Thumb up 6

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    I’ve been crushing on her so hard for awhile now. She just awesome and I love how she just came out like its no big deal. I’ve seen those disgusting comments about her too. Just this morning in fact when I read several articles about her coming out. Those pigs probably just hate her cause she can get more women then they could ever dream of.

  5. Thumb up 5

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    I really love that suit she wore at the draft, it’s tailored perfectly and she looks amazing.

    I also really liked Delle Donne and Diggin’s reactions, it shows a framework that I think can be used to get the WNBA treat it’s gay players/fans better.

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    I’m not super into sports, but I’ve had her on my radar for quite some time. Maybe it’s time to, ah, get caught up. And that white suit, though. Damn.

    God forbid a lady excel at a sport and not fit stereotypical ideas of what a “lady” is supposed to be. Must mean she’s secretly a man. Obviously. So sick of that shit.

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    I know absolutely nothing about Basketball – here in England it’s not talked about at all, which is a shame ‘cus it looks amazing! Anyway, Brittney seems awesome, and she looks fiiiine in that suit!

    Also, this post sparked a serious google/youtube basketball chicks stalk. I feel like maybe i have a new sport to start following.

  8. Thumb up 1

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    Homophobia was rampant during my whole career as a basketball player, from high school throughout college (and I went to a VERY LIBERAL college). My college teammates went so far as to refuse to share a hotel room with me on road trips.

    So happy to see that in the (almost) ten years since, fearless women are breaking the eerie silence.

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