Brittney Griner Comes Out (By Saying She Was Always Out), and the Sports World Shrugs

Earlier this week Brittney Griner, widely considered one of the best female basketball players of all time, did something no one in a major men’s sport in the U.S. has done so far: She came out as gay.

Perhaps even more remarkably, no one cared.

Maybe it is because there are already out WNBA players (like WNBA great Sheryl Swoopes). Maybe it is because people aren’t surprised that a woman who is athletic is gay. Or maybe it’s because Griner wasn’t in the closet to begin with.

As she put it in an interview for Sports Illustrated, “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.”

But for the three “money-sports” in the U.S. (football, men’s basketball, and baseball), it seems like we are no closer to having an openly gay current athlete than we were ten years ago. Even with fantastic charities like the You Can Play Project making inroads at major colleges and some professional teams, we still have NFL scouts asking potential players about their sexuality at the combine. There are still players stating publicly that they wouldn’t be comfortable with a gay teammate in their locker-rooms.

Sexism definitely plays a role in this dichotomy. Women who are involved in the sports world, be they athletes, announcers, writers, or fans, are often accused of acting “unfeminine.” Brittney herself is often criticized for being too “manly” in the way she plays: mean, tough, and physical on the court. So people tend to be less surprised that a female athlete would be taking on a manly role.

However, things may be starting to change. Griner is one of the highest-profile female athletes in history, and her being open about her sexuality can only be a good thing for gay athletes who want to come out, especially if she gets the sort of endorsement deals that most female athletes never get near. Charities like the You Can Play Project are partnering with the National Hockey League to promote LGBT tolerance in sports. The NBA has cracked down on the use of gay slurs, even by superstars like Kobe Bryant.

But, despite claims that a multiple players in the NFL may come out soon, I think we are still five years away from seeing a current U.S. “money sport” athlete come out. Not because there aren’t any, because I am positive there are closeted gay athletes in these sports right now than ever before, but because it is going to take a Jackie Robinson-type person to do it. Someone is going to have to be willing to deal with the slurs from opposing fans and players while also being good enough to prove again and again that his sexuality doesn’t have any impact on his play.

I am thrilled that Griner felt comfortable as the number one WNBA draft pick (and possibly the greatest female basketball player of all time) to be open about herself — at a Baptist University no less: she went to Baylor! — and I hope I am wrong about my timeline for when a money-sport athlete will come out. Because every child, regardless of their race, sexuality, or anything else, deserves to know that no career path is off-limits to them for incomprehensible reasons.

About jkmiami89

Jessica Kirsner is the Development Associate with the Secular Student Alliance. She graduated in the Spring of 2012 from the University of Miami with a BA in biology.

  • McAtheist

    Hey, what about the NHL?

    My bet, a well known athlete will come out as he retires, and maybe (and I’m not super optimistic) when his team mates realize their star ‘go to’ guy for years is gay, attitudes may change.

  • Karen Loethen

    It’s great that the NON-reaction was news. LOL

  • wmdkitty

    Once again, the problem comes down to toxic masculinity — our society tells men that in order to be MEN they must be big, strong, emotionless, and MANLY, and that being gay? Well, you can’t be a REAL MAN if you’re gay, and the MEN on MY football team are REAL MEN, ain’t no fags or homos here, nope!

  • wmdkitty

    Coming out at retirement is a cop-out.

    Gay athletes should be loyal to themselves and the LGBT community first and foremost — by remaining closeted in their professional lives, they are adding to the already-way-too-heavy oppression of LGBT folks.

  • Outcast Kyle

    I see the photo and the surprise would be that she was straight. Though I don’t really give a crap about sports and athletes preferences.

  • rgcustomer

    Some lesbians are the only reason I’m not a “Kinsey 6″. Life is ironic.

  • Agrajag

    It’d be nice if they would. But “should” is much too strong. When they dont, they surely have good reasons for that. Rampant homophobia is one such reason. They don’t have a duty to take on that burden.

  • Nele Abels

    This reminds me of when our minister of foreign affairs, Guido Westerwelle, came out as gay, a couple of years ago. Virtually everybody and their granny shrugged their shoulders and did not care. Same with the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit.

    I like this complete disinterest because it demonstrates LGTB’s way into “normality” much more than a spectacular appreciation would do.

  • Nele Abels

    On the other hand, still “there are no gay soccer players” in Germany. :(

  • The Other Weirdo

    Why is it that, whenever these irrelevant individuals come out, the pictures that accompany them are inevitably the least flattering ones?

  • SeekerLancer

    Indeed, with the opposite end of this sexist double-standard being the lack of surprise that a woman who is into sports would be gay because it’s a “manly” activity.

    In a way I wonder if it actually threatens them less that female athletes come out as lesbians, or even helps to validate their sexism in their minds, since it doesn’t tarnish their view of “real women.”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Christian Commitment

    During the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, prestigious institutions
    of higher education founded on Christian principles began a relentless
    retreat from their spiritual heritage. During that time and into the
    Twenty-first Century, Baylor has remained one of the few to persist in
    the belief that not only can its Baptist heritage inform a vital
    approach to life in general, it can also inform the life of the mind

  • Reginald Selkirk
  • chicago dyke

    i disagree.

    a black person does disservice to herself and others by accepting racism. if someone told me “you have to sit at the back of the bus because the front is for whites only” i would not only object, i’d be willing to get arrested for not complying. closeted gay people are only helping the homophobes by remaining in the closet, esp when they are high profile people.

    mostly, athletes stay in the closet because of money. their agents tell them, “don’t come out! you won’t get endorsements!” and not unrelated, the fact that the agent will make less money as a result. so it’s purely selfish to stay in the closet. conversely, it really helps young gay people trapped in homophobic environments to know that famous people are gay too. gay teen suicide is only marginally helped by things like “it gets better.” but whole worlds would change, if a bunch of he-man texas football coaches had to admit: troy is a gay man, and a damn fine quarterback.

  • chicago dyke

    why is it that any time a woman does anything interesting or important, someone has to comment on her appearance?

  • CanadianNihilist

    The world (i.e. the men of power/authority and(or) fox news zombies) doesn’t care when a women comes out as gay. Only when other men do; because they find that icky and may even make them uncomfortable with their own sexuality.

    Even the most homophobic of men will still get off to lesbian porn.

    And that’s the secret to acceptance. We just need to make all kinds of legal porn erotic to everybody on the planet. Then we’ll have world peace :P

  • aoscott

    She is nuts on the court!!! You’ll never see more command and control than when she gets on the court – what an amazing athlete!

  • The Other Weirdo

    Coming out is neither interesting nor important, at least not to the general public. It may be important to the individual, and those in the circle, but as these are not Earth-shaking or extinction-level events, they are not important to the public.

    And I guess my point is completely lost on you. That’s alright. There was actually something important there, but as I am neither a woman nor gay, it won’t matter to me in the end.

  • phranckeaufile

    That looks like a picture of her at the foul line, and she appears to be completely focused on the task at hand. For an athlete, how is that not “flattering”?

  • Jessica Kirsner

    As much as I love hockey, I don’t consider it a money sport in the US. They have been phenomenal in their partnering with the You Can Play Project and general attitude of acceptance But most casual American sports fans consider it a more minor sport (something I think is starting to change as better quality TVs make it more enjoyable on TV).

  • McAtheist

    Easy to say, maybe not so hard to do. I strongly agree with Agrajag below, and disagree with chicago dyke below, if the consequences of opposing racism is death by lynching, or coming out costs you your $5 million per year NFL salary, I can understand some hesitation on their part.

    Then again I am neither black, a professional athlete or gay so I am not exactly speaking from experience.

  • McAtheist

    Oops! Typo, should read:

    “Easy to say, maybe not so EASY to do.”

  • dwasifar karalahishipoor

    Is she an atheist?