Gay Expectations: Brittney Griner vs. Jason Collins -

Gay Expectations: Brittney Griner vs. Jason Collins

Emma Teitel asks why one coming-out story is less celebrated than another


I texted my sports-addicted dad with the news that veteran NBA player Jason Collins is gay.

“Who’s Jason Collins?” he wrote back.

Apparently before his very brave admission, Collins wasn’t a big deal. Brittney Griner, this year’s WNBA No. 1 draft pick—not to mention the only woman in professional basketball who can dunk—is a big deal.

She’s also recently, publicly, gay. Griner came out casually last week during an interview with USA Today. In fact, she didn’t come out so much as confirm what most people already thought they knew.

From USA Today:

She also took the advice of her parents, who always encouraged her to be herself. Griner has always embraced that advice, and it gave her the courage to open up to her parents about her sexuality. “I hadn’t come out completely,” she said. “It was kind of like, you know … I just hadn’t said it.”

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Griner was equally laid back: “Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.” Media reaction was as placid as Griner’s acknowledgement. If you weren’t seeking out LGBT or WNBA news that day, you probably wouldn’t have known Griner was gay—or who she was in the first place. This seemed to irk some women in and out of the sports world who have since asserted that Jason Collins is not the first sports star to come out of the closet (as some news outlets proclaimed). There were many trailblazers — Brittney Griner included.

So why is a high-profile man’s coming-out story more newsworthy than a woman’s?

The answer is simple and separate from the fact men’s professional sports are infinitely more popular (and thus more newsworthy) than women’s athletics.

Travis Waldron at articulates it perfectly: “Because heterosexual women are assumed to be feminine,” he writes, “women who excel in male-dominated fields, or who exhibit strength normally associated with men, find themselves subject to having assumptions about their sexuality made on the basis of their bodies or their skills.” In other words, people assume if you are a woman who is heavily into sports—especially at a high level—you may be gay. Whether or not this assumption is fair or founded is irrelevant. In men’s sports, the pendulum swings the other way: people assume a man who is heavily into sports—especially at a high level—cannot be gay.

Coming out is never easy — no matter how many people “already know.” But defying other people’s expectations—as Collins and male athletes like him have to do—is an added pressure to a daunting and painful task.

Brittney Griner affirmed a stereotype. Jason Collins broke one. That is why his coming out received more attention. And in many ways, that is why it is more important.

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Gay Expectations: Brittney Griner vs. Jason Collins

  1. Good chance both of them will make the new “Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame”.

    Yes…this actually exists.

  2. yes good chance,..everybody have to right to play a basketball even if somebody told that the basketball is for the boys only..everybody have the right to enjoy life even if she is a lesbian or not..,

  3. Here’s an interesting article I read a couple of weeks ago. I know soccer doesn’t count here in North America but my wee niece plays soccer, she loves it, so I had her read the article.

    NY Times Apr 2013:

    “The latest attempt at a women’s professional soccer league in the United States begins this weekend …… But Megan Rapinoe is not with them …. And she is, after a matter-of-fact announcement last summer, one of the few prominent athletes to come out as gay while in the prime of her career ….. shortly after the United States beat Japan in the gold medal match at Wembley Stadium in London last August, Rapinoe received a message on Facebook from someone connected to Olympique Lyonnais, the French club with a women’s team that has won six consecutive French league championships and two straight European titles, and routinely wins its games by double-digit scores.”

  4. To be blunt… no one watches the WNBA. This was about one of the four main professional North American sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL).

    If anyone tries to say it’s anything else, they’re just trying to ascribe themselves some self-importance.

    Men care about the four main sports, only. It is a significantly large percentage of the population. To get this percentage’s attention, something needs to be put in front of us… ie. one of the four main sports.

    I’ve never and will never watch a WNBA game in my life. Just as I’ll never watch a minor league baseball game, minor league hockey game, etc.

    But if you want to satisfy your feminist ideology’s desires, by all means, pretend it’s about men and women.

    • “Men care about the four main sports … ”

      I am a man and I watch soccer – does that make me less of a man?

      • Didn’t at all mean it like that. Just stating that, in North America, the four main sports have a large percentage of the male population that watch them. Beyond those main four sports, the percentages probably don’t increase much (I could be wrong, maybe golf and/or NASCAR have significance as well).

        Soccer is definitely growing in North America, but in terms of professional leagues, MLS is at-best second-rate, and basically my point is that North Americans by and large watch the first-rate leagues by a significant margin compared to anything second-rate or less.

        Just to add to that, I wouldn’t doubt that most people anywhere in the world generally prefer to watch first-rate sports if they exist in their place. Soccer in Europe would be evidence of that.

    • Even if no one cares about the women’s sports leagues, the underlying /societal attitudes/ pointed out in this article still exist:

      -People are generally considered to be gender conformist and heterosexual, thus removing the need to announce either of those facts;

      -Non-heterosexual orientation is considered to be inextricably linked to gender nonconformity and vice versa;

      -Sports (especially the big four) are considered a masculine-coded activity;

      -So therefore, if you are a woman in the professional leagues of sport (esp. the big four), you are being gender nonconformist by engaging in male activity and thus are considered, at least, more likely to have a non-heterosexual orientation.

      Someone more learned on the issue than I could probably point out the underlying subconscious societal misogyny in the lack of care about professional womens sports, but the real deal is in the final paragraph: “Brittney Griner affirmed a stereotype. Jason Collins broke one.” Those people who consider homosexuality linked to gender nonconformity got their bias confirmed by Brittney, because gay female in ‘masculine’ gender role. By the same token, those same biases were contradicted by Jason, because gay male in ‘masculine’ gender role.

      It’s an interesting piece that outlines some of the unconscious stereotyping that happens in modern professional sports.

  5. In the case of Griner, she has already proven herself through her talent, and this should not make any difference whatsoever. I didn’t even know that she was lesbian until reading this article.

  6. What’s the name of Canada’s WNBA team? Oh right there isn’t one.

    I play and watch basketball but have to go hunting around the channels for NBA playoffs in Canada never mind trying to watch WNBA. So because of availability I know of Jason Collins, although I can’t remember who he last played for.

    I haven’t heard of Brittney Griner — thank you — but I know she’s not the only WNBA player who can dunk because I have heard of Candace Parker who is the younger sister of former Raptors player Anthony Parker.

    See how this works? Something has to be widely available before it can be popular. I find out by watching what’s available on TV. Might as well blame the CRTC for making we watch Canadian clone sports channels instead of just subscribing to ESPN and TNT.

    Is Lisa what’s her name still playing for the Sparks too? She was the first woman to dunk in a game (Candace was second).

  7. obsession;

    that new car has become his obsession: fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée fixe, compulsion, preoccupation, infatuation, addiction, fetish,craze, hobbyhorse; phobia, complex, neurosis; informal a bee in one’s bonnet, hang-up, thing.

  8. I have a male friend who regularly sleeps with a player from the toronto raptors. Hopefully this will allow more pro players to feel they can be honest with themselves

  9. There is another big difference between the announcements. Brittney is unlikely to suffer much verbal abuse from fans and elevated physical hits from competitors as a result of her announcement. Jason is. That’s why players always make the announcement after their retirement or at the end of their careers. Imagine being in the outfield at a MLB game while the fans from the opposing team hurl insults at you from the stands. You don’t even have to be gay to get that…

  10. Who cares! They must need media time! Homos and lesbians have been around since the beginning of time and I am told only exist in humans and monkeys