Keeping Score

Why Brittney Griner Kept Her Sexuality Quiet

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Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury prepares to take a free throw shot against Japan during the preseason WNBA game at US Airways Center in Phoenix, on May 19, 2013.
Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury prepares to take a free throw shot against Japan during the preseason WNBA game at US Airways Center in Phoenix, on May 19, 2013.

Brittney Griner, the former Baylor University basketball star who now plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has been open about her sexuality around friends and family since her freshman year of high school. But in an interview with ESPN The Magazine and espnW, Griner says her coaches asked her not to come out publicly during her college playing career. “It was a recruiting thing,” said Griner, who told Sports Illustrated in an interview last month that she was gay. “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 an unwritten law [to not discuss your sexuality] … it was kind of, like, one of those things, you know, just don’t do it,” Griner told ESPN. “They tried to make it, like, ‘why put your business out on the street like that?'”

(When asked to comment on Griner’s remarks, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey told ESPN, in a statement: “Brittney Griner represented Baylor University proudly on and off the basketball court, and she leaves behind an incredible legacy. I cannot comment on personal matters surrounding any of our student-athletes, but I can tell you Brittney will always be a celebrated member of the Baylor family.”)

(MORE: Can A Woman Play In The NBA?)

That the Baylor coaching staff would ask Griner to keep quiet isn’t surprising. For starters, ESPN notes that Baylor’s Student Policies and Procedures includes a “Statement on Human Sexuality.” It reads:

Baylor University welcomes all students into a safe and supportive environment in which to discuss and learn about a variety of issues, including those of human sexuality. The University affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God. Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm. Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.

The University encourages students struggling with these issues to avail themselves of opportunities for serious, confidential discussion, and support through the Spiritual Life Office … or through the Baylor University Counseling Center.

Further, a New York Times story from this weekend details how an alum was removed from Baylor’s business school advisory board in 2005 after the school discovered he was gay. “Baylor continues to omit sexual orientation from its nondiscrimination policy,” the Times writes. “More recently, Baylor has refused formal recognition to Sexual Identity forum, a group of L.G.B.T. and ‘questioning’ students.”

But Griner’s story is broader than Baylor, a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas. Homophobia is not uncommon in women’s basketball. For example, former Penn State coach Rene Portland once said “I will not have [lesbians] in my program.” In 2007, she was forced to resign following a discrimination lawsuit from a former player, who said Portland told her she needed to look “more feminine.” (That suit was settled). In 2011, ESPN the Magazine published an investigative report on homophobia in women’s basketball recruiting. “In a survey of more than 50 current and former college players,” ESPN wrote, “55 percent answered ‘true’ when asked if sexual orientation is an underlying topic of conversation with college recruiters.”

If, as Griner says, the Baylor staff asked her to keep her sexuality private in order to maintain a recruiting advantage, such a policy also betrays the so-called “ideals” of college sports. The N.C.A.A. always boasts how its “student-athletes” are more than just jocks — they are afforded an opportunity to get a real education, while playing sports for their school. But isn’t self-expression part of any educational ideal? If Baylor had no “unwritten law” to discuss sexuality, and Griner had chosen to come out early in her college career, wouldn’t she have learned valuable personal and social lessons? Aren’t such lessons the point of college?

Instead, the win-big culture of college sports often stunts such growth. Whether it’s college sports programs tolerating academic cheating, or snooping on the social media accounts of athletes, or dictating an athlete’s decision on whether or not to come out, coaches and administrators are looking out for themselves.

The headline of that New York Times story on Griner was ‘Griner Effect’ May Change the Game at Baylor.” It talked about how Griner’s recent announcement could help increase tolerance and inclusion for gay students on campus. But what if the Baylor basketball team hadn’t told Griner to keep quiet? What if she came out three years ago? Griner could have changed the game already. An opportunity, perhaps, was wasted.

MORE: Why Are Colleges Snooping On the Social Media Accounts Of Athletes

19 comments
lissa.barnes
lissa.barnes

Since this is a free world, I ask what does her sexual preference have anything to do with playing collegiate and professional basketball? How does her sexuality impact her stats?

mrkenboosie
mrkenboosie

Me,myself I would like to see this giant in action,might can learn a few things.

stevieg
stevieg

can i be honest, what the hell do i care what she does with her lady parts! does anybody care what i do with my junk?

Mikhail Kalyakin
Mikhail Kalyakin

Tattoo stars on someone's shoulders means that person is a criminal boss. Britney better not to come to former USSR countries)))

baylorcheese10
baylorcheese10

"Homophobia is not uncommon in women’s basketball.

This article was interesting until I came to this sentence. Homophobia is the fear of gay people, or the negative attributes of gay people. As Christians, we aren't scared of gay people. Instead, we simply think it is sinful as the bible tells us. It is a religious belief and preference. And we should have that right.

It is undeniable that more and more people are coming out that they are gay. But, it doesn't change the fact that the bible clearly maps out that homosexuality is sinful. But it's not the only sin in the bible either. 

Baylor University does believe homosexuality is sinful, but they also believe premarital sex, getting drunk, swearing, stealing, adultery, jealousy, anxiety, murder, and others are sinful. And they don't condone any of these.

Just because the world is becoming more and more open to the idea of homosexuality, doesn't mean a private Biblical-based institution should drop its values and beliefs to fall inline with the rest of the world. They are a private institution for a reason. 

Anyone who chooses to accept an education from Baylor should understand its values and beliefs before they accept the offer.   Regardless of private or public university, she always had the right to come out at any point of her college career. One person told her not to, so what? If she really cared, she could have come out, and no one could have stopped her. So, to put the blame on Baylor or Kim Mulkey is irresponsible and looks foolish. Take responsibility for your own actions.

But, the media loves anything and everything to make Christians look judgmental. Fortunately, no one's judgment matters more than are ultimate Savior, Jesus Christ. 

sly.roper
sly.roper

Leviticus 18:22 says 

"'Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

Lola-1975
Lola-1975

@sly.roper Well, she's not planning on having sexual relations with a man, so she's in the clear if we're to take the Bible literally, right?

eagle11772
eagle11772

And I'll never understand why so many LGBT people insist on joining organizations that are openly hostile to them and work to deny them their civil rights.  It's like a gay man wanting to be a Roman Catholic priest.  can you imagine if THAT ever happened ? !  ROFL !  It's NONSENSICAL !

eagle11772
eagle11772

Where does the bible say "Don't be a lesbian ?

Dale Klčo
Dale Klčo

Here is a great example of the hypocrisy of religion. Allowing Griner to play at Baylor (so long as she kept her sexuality secret) was more about money than beliefs. In the end, religion is just a business.

Igor Dimitrijevic
Igor Dimitrijevic

No homophobia in schools !Don't play the dirty games with the people who decided to ''get out from the closet"....

DaveMundy
DaveMundy

What exactly is Baptists' position on homosexuality?

Baylor and Abner McCall for years led opposition in Texas to everything from retail sales on Sundays to alcohol to the state lottery. I guess "sin" is fine if it brings national athletic recognition.

Lola-1975
Lola-1975

@DaveMundy When I was graduating from high school in Texas in 1993, they were debating whether they would allow dancing, which they didn't do until the late '90s. If you're starting from a place that questions the waltz, I think it's clear what you think of homosexuality.

fcs251
fcs251

Since she looks like a man when did she/he come out? Everyone but a blind Democrat knew the sexuality of this man/woman so whats new?

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