We've all heard the news: Washington Wizards basketball star Jason Collins has come out publicly. The interweb is in an uproar about it and his name is being thrown around left and right. I applaud Collins for his courage, as he is now the first openly gay male athlete active in a major American sport. But one name you won't see (and probably haven't seen) in your Twitter or Facebook feeds is that of college basketball player Brittney Griner.
A few weeks ago, the 22-year-old basketball star for Baylor University mentioned her sexuality in passing in an interview, and yet there have been hardly any stories covering this info. She’s signed a deal with Nike, making her the first out and proud lesbian to hold an endorsement with the company. Jim Buzinski, founder of Outsports.com, observed the division as well: “A few weeks ago, we had a story on Outsports about the rumors that an N.F.L. player was going to come out — no one knew who, or anything more than that,” Buzinski said. “All it had was, ‘I think some player might possibly come out but I don’t know who,’ essentially. That story got 10 times the traffic of Brittney Griner, on video, saying that she is a lesbian,” he said. When we look at comparisons like these, we’re met with the question: In the sports world, why is it acceptable for women to be homosexual but not men?
It hasn’t just been Griner who has received this type of reaction either. Tennis player Martina Navratilova, soccer player Megan Rapinoe, and basketball player Sheryl Swoopes all came out publically and no one gave any of their stories a second glance either. One partial answer to the aforementioned question involves sexism and homophobia. Anna Aagenes, the executive director of GO! Athletes, a national network of L.G.B.T. athletes, comments on how problematic this is. “We talk a lot in the L.G.B.T. community about how sexism is a big part of what contributes to homophobia,” she explained. “It’s disheartening when there are so many great role model female athletes out that we’re so focused on waiting for a male pro athlete to come out in one of the four major sports.”
Offensive stereotypes about female athletes inevitably being gay also play a role in this situation. People who associate sports with masculinity and view women who excel at sports as inevitably masculine and inevitably not a heterosexual contribute to the problem. Those who heard Griner casually reveal her sexuality chalked it up to her athleticism. (“Just another gay ballplayer, NBD.”) According to Patrick Burke, a founder of You Can Play, an advocacy group for L.G.B.T. athletes, it is this ridiculous bias that has made it all the more difficult to find female athletes to speak in support of the LGBT community. “In sports right now, there are two different stereotypes — that there are no gay male athletes, and every female athlete is a lesbian,” Burke said. “We’ve had tremendous success in getting straight male players to speak to the issue; we’re having a tougher time finding straight female athletes speaking on this issue because they’ve spent their entire careers fighting the perception that they’re a lesbian.”
We’re glad Griner played it chill when discussing her sexual orientation. It’s clear that she isn’t afraid of the stereotype and realizes that any person’s sexual preference shouldn’t be a groundbreaking news story. We can only hope that more male players will follow Collins’ example and that these stereotypes will be less and less of an issue.
Source: NY Times
Photos via Jezebel and NY Times