Brittney Griner is Gay and No One Cares

Prominent female athletes have been able to be openly gay for decades. Why can't their male counterparts?


Brittney Griner, just picked first overall in the WNBA draft, nonchalantly mentions that she’s a lesbian. Why are female athletes able to do so without controversy but not males?

ESPN (“Brittney Griner discusses being gay“):

Brittney Griner, the No. 1 pick in Monday’s WNBA draft, acknowledged Wednesday in interviews that she is gay.

Griner, a 6-foot-8, three-time All-America center during an illustrious career at Baylor, said she has previously talked about her sexuality, but this appears to be the first time she’s discussed the matter publicly.

In a group interview with that included Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in Monday’s WNBA draft, the players were asked, in women’s sports as opposed to men’s, why athletes coming out is accepted.

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

Part of the answer is the intermixture of sexuality and gender are different. We’re just barely at the point where extreme athletic prowess—especially in a body that’s unusually tall or muscular—in a women is compatible with general notions of femininity. Indeed, not all that long ago, women who were particularly strong and engaged in traditionally male activities like basketball were presumed to be lesbians. Conversely, while our notions have thankfully evolved tremendously, there’s still a widespread notion that gay males are less than manly. And, of course, male athletes are considered the height of masculinity. So, there’s a paradox at work for male athletes that doesn’t exist for their female counterparts.

UPDATE: Robert Harkin observes that I’ve neglected to mention that “nobody cares about women’s sports.” While overstated for humorous effect, that’s actually almost certainly a part of the explanation. The WNBA wouldn’t exist if the free market were operating on its own; it’s managed to exist solely based on subsidy from the NBA. Then again, women’s tennis is wildly popular—often, moreso than the men’s game—and there have been prominent open lesbian players going back at least as far as Billie Jean King.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Sports, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jeremy says:

    Ahem, Dr. Joyner:

    The WNBA wouldn’t exist if the free market were operating on its own; it’s managed to exist solely based on subsidy from the NBA.

    Is the NBA a government agency? No? Then the free market is operating on its own.*

    *Yes, I recognize there are likely government subsidies to the NBA involved. But more or less this is the free market in operation.

  2. Jeremy says:

    My other comment:

    This is going to come off as possibly rude, but seriously, guys like lesbians for whatever reason. They find them hot. They generally do not think the same of gay men unless they’re already gay or bisexual.

    And for whatever its worth, I think men have largely driven media and cultural acceptance in this country. Women have been doing more of it lately, but for a long time, it was a man’s world.

    Not saying that’s good or bad. Just saying what I think it is.

  3. Franklin says:

    In addition to women’s tennis, I’d argue that many of their Olympic sports are popular as well (of course that’s only a couple weeks every couple years).

    Although I had heard this name before, I couldn’t remember who it was until opened this post. But there’s no question at all that among top female athletes, lesbians are over represented compared to the normal population. I wonder if the opposite is true for male athletes; it’s so difficult to tell because of the stigma of coming out. In any case, didn’t Martina Navratilova kiss her girlfriend some 25 years ago? Almost everybody is used to it by now.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Jeremy: Fair enough. But the NBA is operating it as a loss leader to engender goodwill. It wouldn’t survive as a real business.

  5. legion says:

    @Jeremy: I think it’s a combination of the emphasis the “typical” guy puts on visuals and the “more is better” mindset… guys find lesbians “acceptable”, relatively speaking, because hey – more ladies making out & doing sexy things! We like to see that! Whereas two gay men = more guys doing sexy things, eww.

  6. JKB says:


    Let’s see, spend most of your time with other men, wallowing around, grabbing them. Take long hot showers and hang out in the locker room with men. And never be suspected because as an athlete you don’t fit the erroneous stereotype of a homosexual man (Whereas, hetero girls in sports have the opposite stereotype problem) And are protected by the willful blindness of all those fellow players who would be horrified to discover their sexual assaults, I mean hazing, on younger same sex players were anything other than simple sexual violence.

    I’m being a bit harsh. But aren’t we suppose to do away with all the old ideas about gay? Shouldn’t we know by now that sexual orientation isn’t linked to musculature, voice, athletic prowess, etc?

  7. Anderson says:


  8. The other reason why nobody cares (and which could actually be a positive for Griner) is that a substantial and visible share of the WNBA’s fan base is gay (I believe this is also true for women’s college basketball), to the point that WNBA teams explicitly market themselves to the gay and lesbian community, which is not really true of most other sports, men’s or women’s.

  9. matt bernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    But the NBA is operating it as a loss leader to engender goodwill. It wouldn’t survive as a real business.

    This is really odd thinking, or rather it’s kinda missing the bigger picture.

    Yes, the WNBA, if it was it’s own business wouldn’t be able to sustain itself as is. But the same can be said for a lot of other products. The fact is that “the market”, such that it is, encourages companies to invest in loss leaders for a variety of reasons.

    If the NBA didn’t think it had something *profitable* to gain from the WNBA, would it be investing in it’s operation?

  10. Mike says:

    Parhaps the author missed when Chamique Holdsclaw came out of the closet a few years back. Ms Holdsclaw said something to the effect of “I don’t know why people refer to the WNBA as a gay league. At least half the women I know in the WNBA are not gay.”

    Considering the estimate of gays and lesbians sits between (roughly) 2-5%, that 1/2 number stands out. And, if 1/2 the WNBA is gay, why on Earth would another WNBA payer coming out as gay be news? After all, is it news when a male baseball player announces he’s straight? Of course not. Everyone expects it. Ditto here.

  11. Mike says:

    @matt bernius: Depends upon how hard the PC police are attacking them

  12. Lit3Bolt says:

    @matt bernius:

    This is true. Tons of sports exist purely as subsidy based markets. For example, most athletics in the NCAA are pure loss. Therefore, because profit is everything, their right to exist must be challenged at every turn by ideology.

    @James Joyner: Just like the US military and defense industry, hmmm?

    Don’t be the typical conservative and justify most of the worthless ships, tanks, and planes that US taxpayers buy that may or may not work, we’ll never know until we sell them to our client states that use them on their own populations.

    But of course, military bases and 3000 f-35s are “job creators,” right? While anything else is just wasted money.

  13. Randall says:

    “Brittney Griner, just picked first overall in the WNBA draft, nonchalantly mentions that she’s a lesbian. Why are female athletes able to do so without controversy but not males?”

    From the wit of James Taranto:

    We suspect it’s not a question of being “allowed.” It’s just that people probably wouldn’t believe it if a male athlete said he was a lesbian.

  14. Franklin says:

    @Mike: After considering JKB’s post, I looked into it a bit further. I didn’t check the WNBA (and I think Ms. Holdsclaw may have been exaggerating), but looked for estimates on the LPGA. While you can find people quoting anywhere from 10 to 40%, the reality appears to be closer to the former. Still solidly over represented. But as any noob will tell me, correlation does not imply causation. Perhaps they don’t have more athletic builds, just more interest in playing sports, or something.