Pretty much lost in the hoopla surrounding Brittney Griner's ground-breaking last couple of months was a subtle historical nod to a trailblazer from decades ago.
While Griner has worn No. 42 since high school, a source told Outsports the Phoenix Mercury star was considering a change of jersey number when she entered the WNBA. When she heard about Jackie Robinson wearing No. 42, she started leaning toward keeping the number. On April 16, the day after the WNBA Draft, she attended a baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. It was Jackie Robinson Day at Yankee Stadium and all of the players wore No. 42 in honor of Robinson. The closer for the Yankees that evening was Mariano Rivera, the last active player to permanently wear No. 42. The final score of the game was, poetically, 4-2.
Griner decided to stick to her No. 42 in honor of Robinson. She told NBA.com last month:
People were so rude to [Robinson], but he couldn't say anything. He couldn't react. And I could relate to that a little bit, because I've gone into arenas where people said awful, mean and hateful things to me. I can't say anything back or they'll just feed on that, "Oh yeah, I got to her!" So when I heard his story, I had to keep that number.
Similarly, when Jason Collins came out publicly in April, he revealed that the No. 98 he wore was in memory of Matthew Shephard, who was killed in 1998 for being gay. Both Griner and Collins have shown incredible humility with their acknowledgements of those athletes and others who have come before them.
In the last two months the former Baylor superstar has been drafted first by the WNBA, her double-dunk debut was one for the record books, and her public coming out shortly after the draft has resonated with both the sports world and the LGBT community. While Griner is not the first active WNBA player to be openly gay, only Sheryl Swoopes rivals her in public stature. It's awesome to see a young woman with her head on her shoulders who, whether she was "first" or not, is blazing a trail all her own.