For the past week, ESPN broadcasts and newspaper sports’ sections have been analyzing the announcement made by Jason Collins that he’s gay and the effect that it will have on the LGBT communities, and most importantly, in the realm of sports.
In the week following Baylor basketball sensation Brittney Griner’s announcement that she is gay, there wasn’t close to the same amount of coverage. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this is your first time hearing this news about Griner.
All the talk I’ve heard on campus has evolved around Collins and how he is going to help so many people with his announcement and promote acceptance for gay athletes everywhere. My friends were shocked when I told them that Griner also recently came out and even more shocked that they hadn’t heard of it anywhere, considering what a public figure she is in the world of basketball.
So why didn’t Griner’s coming out have the same effect?
Because she can dunk, is so strong and plays a stereotypically male sport—she has unfeminine qualities, basically—it was easier to accept that she is gay.
The mostly welcome reception of Collins’ sexuality proves that maybe we didn’t have that much to worry about after all—the athletic community and nation as a whole are becoming a lot more accepting.
The bigger issue, I believe, is the differing reaction to Griner and Collins coming out. Both are successful basketball players, but Griner is an even more relevant sports figure because of the recent nature of her achievements.
I am a little biased though, since I have been covering women’s basketball all year and know that women on the Stanford team are friends with Griner—so naturally I’m going to come to her defense.
But it is interesting that people have been waiting for the first male athlete in a major sport to come out before the concept of athletes being gay could be legitimized. The assumption is that the implications of being gay for a female athlete are smaller than for a male, so they don’t garner that much attention. Male or female, it shouldn’t matter, because both have to come to terms with combining their social lives with their athletic careers.
Both Collins and Griner stated that they wanted to start the conversation of athletes being gay for the next generation, so that others would feel more comfortable and accepted. Collins was definitely a figure looked up to during his time here on the Farm and his declaration will no doubt provide inspiration for athletes and others who share his sexuality around the nation.
But female athletes are also looked up to and should be given the same national attention to promote progress in relation to gay sports. Unfortunately, Griner was not given that opportunity.
The non-reaction to Griner is almost an insult to female athletes. It assumes that they don’t have the same anxiety and pressures to deal with since they’re considered masculine already, or that they don’t have the same impact as the male athletes who share their sport. It proves that there is still a distinct gap between and a sexist mentality surrounding the perception of male and female athletes.
Collins may have been the first male athlete to come out as an active player of a major American profession sport, but let’s not forget that Billie Jean King began paving the way for gay athletes in 1981. But because she is a female, she is hardily given any recognition.
Griner may not be the most feminine female athlete, but just because she can dunk and has been talked about as potentially being able to play in the NBA because of her strength and other-worldly basketball skills doesn’t mean that her announcement should be any less shocking or have any less of an impact on the LGBT and athletic communities. Give credit where credit is due.
When Ashley Westhem is not obsessing over women’s basketball, she’s trying to think of the perfect way to ask her date to Tour Guide Prom. Sam Corrao Clanon, you are officially being asked. If you’d like to accept her invitation, email Ashley at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.