Brittney Griner, the former Baylor University basketball star who this week became the top overall pick in the WNBA Draft, came out in a recent interview as already openly gay. Griner hadn’t been asked publicly about her sexuality before, but she told both USA Today and ESPN that she had been openly gay during her Baylor career.
Despite the public perception that female athletes are more likely to be gay, it isn’t always easy for women to be open about their sexuality in sports. Griner faced issues on that front too, both because of her sexuality and her looks, but being an openly gay athlete “wasn’t too difficult,” she said in different interviews this week:
“It was hard, just being picked on for being different, just being bigger, my sexuality, everything,” she said. “I overcame it and got over it. Definitely something that I am very passionate about. I want to work with kids and bring recognition to the problem, especially with the LGBT community.” [...]
“It really wasn’t too difficult, I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that,” Griner said. “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.”
What makes this more remarkable, though, is that Griner was open about her sexuality at Baylor, a university that has been a bastion of homophobia. Baylor, after all, is a Baptist university in the heart of Texas, a school that in 2004 stripped an openly gay student of his scholarship and, as recently as 2011, offered a course suggesting homosexuality was a “gateway drug” and banned openly gay men and women from serving on its faculty. Its president is Kenneth Starr, who defended California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 in front of the state Supreme Court, and it has for years refused to officially recognize gay rights student groups.
And yet, when its star basketball player and one of the faces of its university happens to be gay, the school was remarkably silent. That Griner is gay wasn’t widely known, though the fact that she wasn’t “hiding or anything like that” would suggest that it was because no one in the media bothered to ask and not because she didn’t feel like she could speak out about it while playing for Baylor (Baylor coach Kim Mulkey recently dismissed questions about players’ sexuality, saying, “I don’t think it’s anybody’s business.”).
Perhaps that’s a sign that Baylor’s stance has moderated, if only slightly. Or perhaps — and this scenario seems more likely — the school overlooked Griner’s sexuality because she was a talented basketball player who was among the athletes bringing positive attention to a university that has been the face of scandal in the sports world. Either way, Griner is committed to helping other young women realize that who they are is nothing to hide. And hopefully, as she continues to bring attention to her alma mater as she moves up the basketball ladder, her success will also help the people running Baylor realize that its OK to accept people as they are even if they don’t possess otherworldly skills on the basketball court.