Feb 18, 2024; Waco, Texas, USA; Brittney Griner reacts to a Baylor score against the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the first half at Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports | Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Brittney Griner received a long-overdue honor last weekend when Baylor University retired her No. 42 jersey in a pregame ceremony at the school’s new Foster Pavilion. In doing so, Baylor also began the process of healing some old wounds with its biggest basketball legend.

The ceremony marked the first time Griner had stepped onto a Baylor basketball court since she last played for the Bears in 2013. To mark the importance of the occasion, Baylor went all out to make sure to let her know what she meant to the university and to the team.

Festivities began at center court as Baylor presented Griner with a framed green 42 jersey. While the public address announcer read off her litany of accomplishments, including two Naismith Trophies, two Wooden Awards, and being part of Baylor’s historic 40-0 2011-12 season, Griner playfully posed with a Bear claw with current Head Coach Nicki Collen.

Then with Collen, decked out in a bright gold GRINER 42 blazer, and the entire Baylor roster wearing 42 warmups, Griner watched as the school unveiled a banner honoring her number and name.

She cupped her hands over her mouth with emotion and the Baylor fans roared their approval. With the current players exhorting the crowd to crescendo louder and louder, Griner tapped her heart, blew kisses, and took in the moment as the banner ascended to its permanent home in the rafters.

To punctuate the day, during a halftime “dunk like Brittney” contest, Griner decided to show everybody how it’s supposed to be done.

It was especially noteworthy that Collen was a prominent presence during the ceremony. While Griner’s time at Baylor was marked by historic feats on the court, she endured a lot of pain behind the scenes as a lesbian playing for a Texas Baptist university with a history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

While Griner played an outsized role in the Bears’ 2012 National Championship, then-head coach Kim Mulkey allegedly told her to hide her true self and delivered the message that if she came out, it would hurt recruiting.

Because of this, Griner eventually wrote in her autobiography, “no matter how much support I felt as a basketball player at Baylor, it still doesn’t erase all the pain I felt there.”

Flash forward 11 years, and Baylor’s current head coach stood by Griner’s side throughout the ceremony. In fact, Collen had publicly pushed for Baylor to retire 42 for months and took her current team to Dallas over the summer to support Griner when she played there for the first time since her detention in Russia.

While the team appears to be in much more inclusive hands, Baylor University as a whole still has a ways to go.

Last May, Baylor applied for a Title IX exemption in order to dismiss several students’ complaints of LGBTQ discrimination and it was granted in August. Additionally, Baylor continues to hold a spot on Campus Pride’s Worst List of the most unsafe campuses for LGBTQ students.

Griner’s number retirement and the reception she received at Baylor are powerful examples of sports leading the way for LGBTQ acceptance. Now it’s up to the university to live up to that and give the same respect to its LGBTQ students who can’t dunk a basketball.

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