Opinion: The difference between Brittney Griner and Jason Collins coming out
Brittney Griner, selected number one in the 2013 WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury, is openly gay.
May 1st, 2013
02:20 PM ET

Opinion: The difference between Brittney Griner and Jason Collins coming out

Editor’s Note: Cyd Zeigler is co-founder of SB Nation's Outsports.com. He has reported on LGBT sports issues for over a decade and told the coming-out stories of many athletes including Wade Davis, John Amaechi and Alan Gendreau.

By Cyd Zeigler, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When Jason Collins announced that he is gay, it made headlines.  But when the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick, Brittney Griner, made the same announcement recently, it was met with less fanfare.

Part of that is the result of a stereotype that has persisted that women who play basketball are lesbians, while most men who play basketball are straight.

When a professional male athlete for one of the major sports comes out, it is breaking news, and start planning ticker-tape parades, despite men like David Kopay and John Amaechi already proving beyond a doubt that gay men are pro-athletes.

When a female athlete comes out of the closet, it is often met with a big, collective yawn. Griner coming out drew facetious comments like, “Shocker, there’s a lesbian playing basketball.” In fact, the lack of reaction in the news ended up being bigger news than her actual announcement.

It would be easy to blame the double standard in coverage only on stereotypes, but here are legitimate reasons Collins is getting the attention Griner’s announcement never saw.

Collins is the first active player in his league to come out, and he is the first active player in any of the major men’s sports –from hockey to tennis, basketball to golf – to come out publicly.

This is new ground.

Griner, on the other hand, had been beaten to the punch by a slew of female athletes including Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova decades ago.
Recently, the WNBA’s Seimone Augustus and pro soccer player Megan Rapinoe came out. The news of an out female athlete is not big news anymore, though there was a time when a lesbian athlete’s announcement was big news.

When Sheryl Swoopes came out publicly in 2005, it garnered the headlines Collins’ story is seeing now. While other WNBA players had quietly shared their sexual orientation before, Swoopes did it in grand fashion, hiring public relations guru Howard Bragman to manage the media onslaught.

She was also, by far, the biggest name in her sport to ever make the announcement, and the media reacted accordingly.
While Griner is a big name with a big stature, she simply doesn’t yet measure up to Swoopes’ Olympic gold medals, league MVP awards and WNBA championships.

The biggest reason Collins’ news is getting the attention is because it’s new. A dozen active male pro athletes haven’t come before him.

Griner and Collins themselves seemed to acknowledge this difference simply by the way they told their stories. Griner mentioned it casually in an interview and did not follow up. Collins, on the other hand, made his announcement in a very planned way, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a well-written column that, among other things, openly discussed his place in history.

Almost no one saw his news coming.

Both of these athletes’ revelations are important. Whether the media paid attention to one more than the other is a footnote to the advances they both made in equality this month.

I look forward to the day when an announcement like that of Collins is treated exactly like that of Griner: “Ho-hum, there’s a gay guy playing basketball.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cyd Zeigler.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Trey

    I could not care less if Jason C is gay. It is you in the media who make a big deal about it, and then write stories about the reaction to your stories.

    You generate response, and then complain about your work. It is tiresome.

    May 4, 2013 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
    • androphiles

      What is tiresome is people like you acting as if there's something wrong with the media reporting this. Nobody is making you read it. If you're tired of it, change the TV channel, shut the computer page your'e on or turn the newspaper page. Nobody cares if you're tired of it but you.

      May 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Adam

    The article touched on something very interesting. That is, women who play basketball are assumed to be lesbians. Indeed, I have heard many people comment on how masculine they look. For example, people were not shocked to learn that Griner was a lesbian because of how masculine she looks. In our politically correct world, we refuse to admit that many of the WNBA players are lesbians. Indeed, they don't have to come out, we already assume that they are lesbians.

    May 3, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mason

    Very insightful.

    I didn't understand this part: "... it is breaking news, and start planning ticker-tape parades..." Was this the copy-editor?

    May 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. floyd schrodinger

    When this isn't a story, then we'll have equality.

    May 3, 2013 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tessa

    Maybe because nobody watches women's sports unless it gymnastics. And annebeth66 is spot on, this man lived a lie that profoundly affected someones life ( the girl he asked to marry him) that is vastly different than keeping a low profile. The media is to blame for this. There are gay, straight, black, white whatever everywhere, we are the melting pot to believe otherwise is to live in a bubble.

    May 2, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. annebeth66

    I have very little respect for Collins, who as a man would use a woman, waste 8 years of her life, all to hide the fact that he was gay. The arrogance of this man is unreal and all of these accolades from former players, friends and even the President is a disgrace. Collins knew he was gay but played a charade of the loving boyfriend who proposed marriage to his girlfriend, planning a wedding, when I'm fact he wanted to be with men. Griner is the real deal; a woman who has remained true to herself and not hiding who she is. She could teach Collins a thing or two about honor & pride.

    May 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jakuho Raikoben

      Very true. I couldn't have said it better myself.

      May 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • greennnnnn

      Disagree. Arrogance? Okaaaayyy..............you have no idea what it's like to be gay. That's obvious. I'm not gay but my daughter is so I know a few things. Actually, I know quite a bit. Some people have no choice but to hide who they are. Society has made it such. Look at at the nasty comments and you should see perfectly well why they feel they must hide who they are.

      May 3, 2013 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
      • Resse

        You can hide who you are, but don't string along another human being by making long-term commitments and promising them the world. If you don't want to come out to the world, simply don't. Lying and manipulating another person for 8 years to keep your secret is selfish and disgusting.

        May 3, 2013 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
      • androphiles

        It's not even that easy. As a gay man who didn't come out until 31, I can tell you I didn't come to grips with it for myself until I was 30. Because of the onus put on being gay (still) by some in our society, a lot of us don't realize who/what we are until very late in life. Collins may have felt at the time that marriage was really what he wanted, then realized later the truth about himself. This may sound far-fetched, given the relative visibility of gay people today, but it's true. Collins coming forward as he has will make it still easier for future generations of boys and men not merely to know the truth about themselves but to realize they don't have to hide it to have a good life.

        May 8, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |