Even people who don’t give a hoop about basketball are rallying around Brittney Griner, and what’s not to like? This Baylor center, best known for her spectacular dunks, is now publicly chatting and writing (most recently in the New York Times) about what it’s like to be OUT, and why it matters.
And it does matter, to all of us.
Learning that a female basketball player is gay cannot exactly shock anyone. So compared to Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay (wow – a MALE basketball player? Finally!) the Brittney story is a yawn.
I had already heard through the grapevine she was gay – and she herself didn’t see it as an announcement. Unlike Jason, she wasn’t “coming out.” She was “being out,” which is different. Coming out is revealing a secret, or making a revelation that will surprise the audience. Being out is “just being who you are,” as she put it.
But as long as discrimination exists, being openly gay matters. “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,” she told SI.com.
Even in 2013, being out takes courage – and many athletes still fail to live courageously. They’re afraid of losing corporate sponsorships, and thus sacrifice authenticity for money. That’s counterproductive, because as long as corporate America can in effect pay athletes to feign heterosexuality, we will not achieve the equality we deserve. Plus we’ll feel miserable and ashamed.
When I came out as a Stanford basketball player in 1976, I said the same things: “I’m just being who I am.” That was at the height of the feminist movement and the beginning of the gay liberation movement. I naively expected that 37 years later, gay people would have achieved full legal rights and full acceptance. We’ve come a long way, but we aren’t there yet.
What WILL surprise – and please – me is when gay college coaches start “being openly who they are.” Now THAT will be newsworthy.
In the future, who’s gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, or “fluidly” sexual or asexual over the course of their lifetimes will not be a big deal. That’s the goal, or my goal anyway: To create a world where human diversity is appreciated but nowhere near as interesting as a good game of basketball.
— Mariah Burton Nelson has written six books about gender and sports. She enjoys “being out” – and being shorter than Brittney Griner, as pictured above.