For Pride month, we’ve dedicated each day of June to an individual athlete or coach whose shining moment changed LGBTQ sports.
Today, we’re looking back at the achievements of the young woman at Baylor University who remained publicly closeted under orders from her coach, but made no secret of who she was.
Brittney Griner was the top women’s college basketball player of the year and No. 1 WNBA draft pick when she came out as a lesbian in April 2013. But a month later, she said that she had never really been in the closet at all: that people at Baylor knew all along.
Griner said Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey, while aware of her star’s sexual orientation, did not want it being discussed fearing it would hurt recruiting.
“It was a recruiting thing,” Griner told ESPN The Magazine and espnW in May 2013. “The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn’t let their kids come play for Baylor.”
“It was more of a unwritten law [to not discuss your sexuality] ... it was just kind of, like, one of those things, you know, just don’t do it,” Griner. “They kind of tried to make it, like, ‘Why put your business out on the street like that?’”
But Griner reiterated that her sexuality was an open secret at Baylor.
“I told Coach [Mulkey] when she was recruiting me. I was like, ‘I’m gay. I hope that’s not a problem,’ and she told me that it wasn’t,” Griner said. “I mean, my teammates knew, obviously they all knew. Everybody knew about it.”
That means that even though it wasn’t publicly known, the Associated Press picked a lesbian for Player of the Year in 2012, the ESPYs named a lesbian Female Athlete and Female College Athlete of 2012 and the NCAA named a lesbian the Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 Final Four.
In the championship game, the three-time All-American had 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks to lead Baylor to a dominating 80-61 victory over Notre Dame, capping a 40-0 season for the Lady Bears.
Before becoming the number one draft pick in the WNBA in 2013, she was not only regarded as the top shot blocker in the NCAA, she was at that time one of only seven women to ever dunk during a college basketball game. “Brittney Griner is going to change not only basketball but female sport in general,” someone said of her future.
And they weren’t wrong. Although the WNBA will play a shortened season in 2020, Griner consistently leads the league in scoring and blocks per game as a member of the Phoenix Mercury.
We’ll have another Moment of Pride story tomorrow and every day this month.