Gay Athletes and the Generational Divide

Different reactions to Jason Collins' and Brittney Griner's sexuality aren't just about masculinity.

Jason Collins (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images); Brittney Griner (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Jason Collins (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images); Brittney Griner (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

When asked during an interview with Sports Illustrated about the difference in shock value (and column inches) between the sexuality revelations of male and female athletes, Griner shrugged her gingham-clad shoulders.

“I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different,” Griner said. “Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.”

She continued, “It really wasn’t too difficult; I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So it wasn’t hard at all. If I can show that I’m out and I’m fine and everything’s OK, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way.”

For his part, Collins said that fellow gay athlete Robbie Rogers, a 25-year-old soccer player, phoned him to say, “It feels a little weird to congratulate you for being honest.”

More than a decade separates Collins’ and Griner’s professional basketball careers. When the veteran Collins graduated from high school, then-President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. Just weeks before Griner became the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick, thousands gathered outside the Supreme Court to protest the Defense of Marriage Act.

For Griner, living her truth seems a simple task — as natural as lacing up a pair of sneakers before a big game. The 6-foot-8 soon-to-be star exudes a confidence that Collins, at 34, is just now stepping into after 12 seasons. That their coming-out parties were vastly different isn’t just a reflection of the stereotypes surrounding masculinity, sexuality and sports (though that is part of it) but a tectonic shift in cultural norms.

Perhaps in another decade we’ll be past not only the novelty but the necessity of “the firsts,” but until then, someone has to put that metaphorical number on their back and play the game.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.