If you know anything about basketball, you know about Brittney Griner. And even if you don’t care about basketball you’ll want to watch her play. The almost seven-foot-tall superstar is practically a one-woman team, blocking shots, playing above the rim, and moving at speeds her opponents struggle to contain. And, she can dunk—effortlessly.
Griner is also openly gay, and recently reported to Sports Illustrated she’s never really been in the closet. But just a day after the 22-year-old Baylor grad was drafted into the WNBA—as the number one pick, obviously—Nike also signed her to a deal.
The sum hasn’t been disclosed, but Griner told USA Today, “It’s big time.” Some are reporting that this makes Griner the first already-out gay athlete that Nike has ever signed. First or not, her presence is a boon to gay acceptance in an industry that’s historically not shown enthusiasm towards non-heterosexual players.
Nike has been eager to sign openly gay sports figures for some time, and last year, the company hosted its first annual LGBT sports summit. But the focus for the company isn’t simply social justice—they’re courting a new audience.
Analysts report that an openly gay male athlete could make millions in endorsements, but getting a man to come out while he’s still actively playing for a major league has so far proven difficult.
Prior to Griner, Nike signed soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who’s now out herself, but at the time she joined Nike, Rapinoe hadn’t publicly disclosed her sexuality in the press.
Still, Griner could lead the way in boosting not only gay acceptance in sports, but also altering the way female athletes in general are viewed, putting them more on par with their male counterparts.
Women are still seen as being physically weaker and incapable of generating as much revenue. But Griner’s game is so electric, her presence in the WNBA is expected to jumpstart the league’s ability to pull in big ticket sales and merchandising dollars.
But the question remains—with her skills, will she stay in the WNBA? Mark Cuban, the brash owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was recently quoted as saying he’d consider drafting her. Whether or not she would ever make the switch remains to be seen, but if she did, no one questions the fact that she’d definitely hold her own.
Do you think Griner just paved the way for other athletes—including men—to come out? Or do you expect that sports in general will be slow to change its mostly heterosexual image? Let us know in the Comments.