Brittney Griner is a star, a basketball phenom you can’t keep your eyes off of when she’s on the court. She was the first pick in the WNBA draft this week, going to the Phoenix Mercury, and making fans of the game psyched to see she’ll be coming to a city near them in the next season. Off the court, though, critics felt like they could discuss her bass-tinged voice, her androgynous appearance and other “masculine” factors they see in her mannerisms and use it to posit about her sexuality. Well Brittney has made it clear for anyone who cares: She’s gay.
In this video interview with Sports Illustrated, Brittney sits with the other two top draft picks Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins and discusses being out in the locker room.
Being one that’s out, you know, just being who you are — just be who you are. Don’t worry about what other people are going to say. They’re always going to say something. … Don’t hide who you really are.
And on choosing to be out about her sexuality:
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.
Both Skylar and Elena voiced their support for Brittney and other out teammates, saying they would prefer players be who they are then feel they should hide part of themselves. The WNBA has been and is still currently home to several out players such as Seimone Augustus, Sheryl Swoopes and Chamique Holdsclaw, but there are still those that are rumored to be closeted or not open about their sexuality publicly. Despite that, queer women have been staunch fans of the women’s professional basketball league since its inception, and continue to attend games and root their city’s team on each year. While not always so outwardly embracing of their lesbian fanbase, the WNBA has slowly acknowledged their part in the community by doing things like hosting LGBT Pride events. In an interview with The New York TImes last October, Chamique Holdsclaw commented on the change:
The league realizes that it has to support and have a place for its gay community. A lot of gay people love sports and want to support the W.N.B.A. You have players, some star players now, who openly identify as being gay. Early on, the league would not market them because of that. That has changed. You have to be honest with your product and with the athletes that you’re dealing with. And get support from wherever you can.
Chamique herself wasn’t really “out” until the last year, and it was more of a slow reveal as she appeared and produced a reality show about gay women in Atlanta and was later involved in an altercation with her ex-girlfriend.
Last year Linx player Seimone Augustus was the Grand Marshal of the Minneapolis Pride Parade and has spoken widely of her fiancee and their upcoming wedding. But one of the games most famous players, Sheryl Swoopes, has since become a more controversial figure in the lesbian community, after she made statements like this about her having come out as a lesbian:
I wanted to come out because of the pressures of the world and when I made the decision to come out, I never really thought about anyone else. But, I did come to realize that that wasn’t me or the life I wanted to live. I’m definitely happier with my current relationship, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support the LGBT community and applaud the president for what he said in support of the community. I just believe that everyone deserves to be happy.
We have a new hero in Brittney Griner, who would likely agree with Sheryl’s last statement: the part about deserving to be happy. And even though Sheryl might have reneged on her declaration of lesbianism, she was undeniably part of Brittney’s journey to be an out woman in a league of women’s basketball players. Of course, Brittney’s being such a talented and honest woman who is unafraid to be herself, all the credit is owed to her.