Photograph by Brandon Sullivan
Hailed as the new face of the WNBA, Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (and Out100 honoree) is handling success on her own terms. She was the number one draft pick in 2013 and after casually coming out in an interview with SI.com, she became the first openly gay athlete signed by Nike. The 23-year-old’s memoir, In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court, candidly describes her journey to self-acceptance, homophobia in sports, and the truth behind that fateful interview.
As a bullied teen, Griner found that what had ostracized her in middle school—her height—made her a star on the basketball court. Standing at her present 6-foot-8 by the time she was 17, Griner found that the sport also gave her the confidence to be open about her sexuality. While her mother was supportive, Brittney’s father disapproved of his daughter being a lesbian. They fought bitterly, forcing Brittney to temporarily move out and stay with her basketball coach.
Even when her life off of the court was tempestuous, basketball remained Brittney’s saving grace. So when college recruiters came running after her, Griner saw the chance to finally be free. She eventually chose Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. Brittney soon found out, however, that her freedom was restricted at the conservative Baylor, which has a policy against homosexuality, as well as premarital sex.
“Many people have asked me why I went to Baylor, a private Baptist university, if I knew I was gay,” Griner writes. “The most direct answer I can offer is this: I had zero knowledge of the policy.”
Something as small as going out on a date with her girlfriend was frowned upon. She had to censor her Twitter account and in effect her life: “I just always felt like certain people wanted to pretend that a big part of me—my sexual identity—didn’t exist.”
When she got drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, Griner knew she was close to finally attaining the freedom denied to her at Baylor and she knew she was going to be completely open about her sexuality. That being said, Griner didn’t except to come out the way she did back in April 2013. She had her own magazine cover story planned, much like Jason Collins who came out days later on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Though initially angry that she was denied the opportunity to tell her story and “give it the context” she thought it deserved, Brittney soon realized that her coming out mattered: “I’ll come out over and over again if it’s a positive thing for gay kids who are struggling with the same stuff I struggled with when I was younger. Because every voice matters and being different is a good thing. Who wants to be the same as everyone else?”
In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court is available now.