Brittney Griner, a junior at Baylor University in Texas, scooped up the most outstanding player honors and led her school's basketball team to the national championship on April 3 in Denver. The final score? A crushing victory of 80-61 over Notre Dame. Griner is a powerhouse, standing 6'8" and capable of the elusive (for men and women alike) basketball trick of dunking.
Seriously, as someone with a vertical jump of maybe four inches, I can say with confidence this woman is astounding.
Following the championship game, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was complimenting Griner's skills when McGraw's comments took a turn for the unfortunate. McGraw finished her rave about Griner's talent by saying, "She’s one of a kind. She’s like a guy playing with women. It’s just there’s so many things that she can do that I’ve not seen a lot of women (do)," as the Washington Post reports. What McGraw, I believe, intended as a compliment was latched onto by every Twitter-ing buffoon and sparked a social media firestorm in which every John and Jane Doe felt they could debate the authenticity of Griner's gender.
Googling the basketball prodigy results not in the fact that she led her team to the winningest season in college basketball history, that she made the All American team, or that she was named the National Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. Rather, the first search suggestion is: "Brittney Griner a boy?"
The susceptibility of female athletes to probing gender questions is nothing new. Speculations like the ones plaguing Griner have been hurled at Venus and Serena Williams, and notably South African runner Caster Semenya, who was the focus of intense gender scrutiny following her world championship win in 2009. The sports world, and society at large, has trouble with bodies that don't conform to our preconceived notions of what makes one male or female. The intelligible body is one that we can classify simply: man or woman. The realities of the bodies that exist, however, are not nearly that simple.
Griner, who is deferring the WNBA to finish her collegiate career at Baylor next year, acknowledged the comments with grace, thanking McGraw for what she viewed as a compliment from an opposing team's coach.
Here at BUST, we admire Griner's accomplishments. But we also acknowledge her story as history repeating itself, a repugnant policing of women's bodies, and an attempt to curtail women's successes that needs to be addressed as such. To her critics, lay off the female phenomenon! As for Griner, we wish her the best in her upcoming senior season at Baylor. And Brittney, if you read this, dunking lessons please?