Brittney Griner on Wednesday said she was gay. She said it casually and matter-of-factly, sort of like she thought she might as well put it on the public record for posterity’s sake, but not like she was making some big announcement. She more or less assumed you either already knew, or wouldn’t care one way or the other.
It happened during an interview with Sports Illustrated in which she addressed the topic of homosexuals in sports.
“I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different,” she said. “Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.”
This made the news because until that moment Griner, the former Baylor University star who was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft earlier this week, had never publicly come right out and declared herself a lesbian, maybe because there was never a compelling reason to do so.
The best women’s basketball player revealing she’s gay is not some kind of societal landmark. It isn’t even the first time it’s happened. Sheryl Swoopes, a three-time WNBA MVP who had a line of Nikes named after her in the 1990s, did it eight years ago, a few months after winning the WNBA scoring title. She then entered into a relationship with one of her female coaches. There was some surprise associated with that announcement, but mainly because Swoopes had been married to a man and had a child with him. (Note: Swoopes got engaged to another man in 2011, according to an ESPN.com report).
The point is, 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.
According to a study earlier this year by the Pew Research Center — a “nonpartisan source of data and analysis” — 70 percent of Millennials (defined by Pew as those born in 1981 or after) support same-sex marriage. That number is up from 51 percent as recently as 2009, the year Griner graduated from high school.
For all of Griner’s adult life, the majority of her peers have supported same-sex marriage.
Now, that’s not a perfect measure. That 70 percent includes people who may object to Griner’s lifestyle while also objecting to government attempts to ban same-sex marriage. And it does still leave almost a third of her generation in opposition, but as a member of the Millennial generation I can say with a high level of confidence that those people are a mostly silent minority. In other words, most of the people in my generation who speak about this issue in public are speaking supportively. Opposing gay marriage is not just uncommon, it’s uncool.
Focus on the Family, one of the most influential organizations among evangelical Christians, conceded that battle two years ago.
“We’re losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings,” Focus on the Family president Jim Daly told NYMag.com in 2011. “Sixty-five to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don’t know if that’s going to change with a little more age — demographers would say probably not. We’ve probably lost that. I don’t want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.”
That’s the final frontier. When Focus on the Family is ready to move on from a debate, it’s just a matter of time until it’s no longer a debate.
So Griner’s admission – if we can even call it that – probably doesn’t even raise her heart rate, even if it does have the potential to assuage the fears of others who are less confident about exposing their sexual identity. This isn’t the NFL, and it isn’t 1980. Griner is a target, but not because she’s gay. She’s a target because she’s 6-foot-8, and because she can do things no other women’s basketball player has ever been able to do.
She’s a target because she’s the biggest and the best.
“Nobody roots for Goliath,” Wilt Chamberlain once said.
Griner has had to deal with a lot of crap already. She seems to be expecting this will be the least of it.
“It really wasn’t too difficult,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that.”