With Griner Coming Out To Little Fanfare, Could That Signify Shift Toward Acceptance?
WNBA Mercury C Brittney Griner "came out as gay Wednesday, casually mentioning the fact in an interview as if it were an afterthought," and the news media and sports world "seemed to treat it as such, too," according to Sam Borden of the N.Y. TIMES. Griner did "not treat the issue with any outward hesitation -- in fact, she appeared to refer to her coming out in the past tense, as though it had happened before." It was an "odd juxtaposition: as there is increased speculation about whether a male athlete ... will come out while still playing a major professional team sport, one of the best female athletes in the history of team sports comes out, and the reaction is roughly equivalent to what one might see when a baseball manager reveals his starting rotation for a three-game series in July." There is a "more substantial history to female athletes’ coming out and continuing to play," including Martina Navratilova, former WNBAer Sheryl Swoopes and U.S. national women's soccer team MF Megan Rapinoe. But those players "generally received a similarly subdued response, with nothing close to the expected surge in attention that figures to follow a male athlete’s coming out." Portland State women's basketball coach Sherri Murrell, the only openly gay basketball coach in Division I, said that stereotypes about female athletes being homosexuals "continue to persist, and that probably played a role in how the sports world responded to Griner" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/19). Griner said, "Being one that's out, it's just being 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." She said making the decision to come out "really wasn't too difficult." Griner: "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 okay, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way" (SI.com, 4/17).
GENERATION CHANGE: YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee wrote Griner "came out of the closet, to the world at large anyway," and the "world didn't end." In fact, Griner's career prospects "are as bright as ever." Griner knows the "key to acceptance is through upcoming generations." There are "plenty of people still alive who can remember a time before Jackie Robinson, but for the rest of us, the idea of a segregated baseball field is impossible to conceive." An athlete's sexual orientation "shouldn't be a bigger story than what he or she does on the field." If fans are "going to obsess on players' sexual preferences, Griner's understated stance, and the resulting acceptance, are the way to go" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/18). FOXSPORTSSOUTHWEST.com's Tully Corcoran wrote Griner has "nothing to fear from the women's basketball community." Homosexuality "isn't taboo in women's basketball, and frankly, it isn't taboo among Griner's generational peers" (FOXSPORTSSOUTHWEST.com, 4/18). ESPN’s Jemele Hill said Griner came out "in what I thought was the most in innocuous way possible. ... She treated it like it was no big deal.” Hill: "We have all this angst over the NFL and what will happen. Well, Britney Griner just gave a great example” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 4/18).
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MALE, FEMALE SPORTS: ESPN's Dan Le Batard wondered how coming out can be "so easy in female sports and so hard in male sports.” ESPN's Marcellus Wiley said the “level of concern” and interest “for the WNBA is not what it is for” the NFL, NBA “or other major sports.” Wiley: “Because this is happening in the WNBA and not in close proximity of where we are as a viewing audience, it hasn't hit home just yet. Once it occurs in the major sports then you will see ... the resistance to it and then the embrace and understanding of, ‘Okay, now this is happening ... and people will respect it.’” Le Batard noted gay athletes have come out in boxing, tennis, soccer and the WNBA, but that has "everything to do with how much we care about those sports, care about the people in those sports. Because we care about those sports more, it means more to us. It’s more of an issue that is provocative and flammable” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 4/18). SI.com's Richard Deitsch said, "We have a long way to go when it comes to men in team sports coming out and it not being a big deal, and part of that is just how men are raised in this culture.” Deitsch: “I’d like to believe 10 or 20 years from now, especially if many more athletes come out, the story won’t be a N.Y. Times front-page kind of thing. I think all of us have been hearing that we’re going to see some athletes, probably some NFL people, coming out in the next couple of months. I cannot see how that’s not going to be leading every newspaper in this country” (“The Dan Patrick Show,” 4/18).
IT'S ALREADY HAPPENED IN NFL? CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman reported an NFL for the past few years has had a gay player on its team, "many on the team knew it, and no one cared." The player, who Freeman did not identify, was "not openly gay but several of the player's friends on the team knew it." Sources said that a "good dozen players on the team were aware the player dated men." Freeman: "One of the main reasons players have not come out as openly gay in NFL locker rooms has been due to fear of repercussions from teammates, coaches and fans." But if players on this team "knew their teammate was gay, and accepted him, this would represent a possibly dramatic shift in the entire idea that an openly gay man could exist in the NFL" (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/18). FOXSPORTS.com's Jason Whitlock wrote football fans are "less prepared than an NFL locker room for an out-of-the-closet, gay football star." Whitlock: "We are not as tolerant as football players. This is the beauty of team sports. They give participants a clear goal, a mission that helps teammates see past differences and focus on an individual’s ability to help the team reach its goal." He added, "Can a gay male athlete be packaged to meet all the traditional American values? He can certainly meet the values respected inside a locker room. We are the group that has work to do. Our traditional American values are going to have to be reshaped to make room for the gay man" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/18). ESPN.com's LZ Granderson noted ever since Univ. of Colorado TE Nick Kasa said that NFL teams "asked him whether he liked girls during the combine back in February, some people have turned this offseason into a crazed quest for a gay guy in the locker room." But at "this point, who is really going to be shocked/surprised by this revelation?" Granderson: "Yes, the first guy to say it will be surrounded by reporters whether he's a star or scrub. Yes, his teammates will be asked about him, whether he plays or not. Yes, it will be a lot like the frenzy surrounding Tim Tebow last season." The NFL "survived that; the NFL will survive this" (ESPN.com, 4/18).