“I was always told, ‘If you’re gay, your career is going to fail.”
5x All-WNBA Team.
2x Defensive Player of the Year.
6x All-Defensive Team.
2x Scoring Champion.
7x Blocks Leader.
Brittney Griner’s career isn’t a failure, that much is obvious, but the hateful comments she received when she was younger almost held one of the league’s all-time players to not be who she truly is. Comfortable in her own skin and never wanting others to face the same judgement she dealt with, Griner is using her global platform to provide a voice for those in need.
“Once I came out in sports, I basically told myself, ‘I’m coming out, officially,” Griner said. “I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and tell myself that I was being true to me. I wanted to help the younger me, when I was a kid, give them somebody for them to look up to.”
On April 17, 2013, just two days after being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, Griner came out publicly as a lesbian. Although she had been warned that this could potentially hurt her career, Griner was proud of who she was and her new organization of the Mercury were right there to support her.
“Coming to Arizona, I didn’t know what to expect,” Griner said. “The city, the team, the players, the organization, front office really got behind me and everything I wanted to do. I was very vocal on being a part of the LGBTQ community and wanting to get involved anyway I could. They poured all this information for me. They came up with all these ideas. The city got behind me and backed me.”
Throughout the past seven years since Griner arrived in Phoenix, she’s been an All-Star for the city on and off the court. Going as far as donating her Community Assist Award prize of $5,000 to One-n-Ten, a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering LGBTQ youth and young adults, after their resource center was the victim of arson, Griner has consistently used her voice, her actions and her resources to better the community around her.
“We’re given this platform and this voice and this audience,” Griner said. “We can either use it for ourselves or we can use it to bring awareness to issues that are going on in the world. I’m definitely on the side of using that microphone for good because you can touch so many people.”
Griner is once again making her voice heard as the Mercury launch their 2020 My Kicks My Cause shoe initiative. She invited one of her strongest allies, ESPN’s Holly Rowe, to join her in the development of the shoes.
The two created matching rainbow sneakers in celebration of Pride month that feature both the rainbow gay flag and the black-and-white ally flag on the back. The shoes also displayed hands grasping together on the side to symbolize Griner and Rowe holding hands and standing together.
“We are in this together,” Rowe said was the biggest message she wanted to get across with these aspects.
Griner’s first ask for the shoe was for the double female sign to be displayed across the bottom, matching the tattoo she has on her hip. While the shoe is primarily Pride focused, Griner felt it was also important to include ‘Equality’ and ‘BLM’ as she sees the similarities in both movements and wanted to include all the causes that she is passionate about.
Griner is dedicated to seeking justice, peace and equality in the world and continues to use her platform each and every day to push towards it.
“I was sent to a team in the Phoenix Mercury where you can be who you want to be,” Griner said. “You can do what you want and they’re going to back you 110 percent.”
Chief Operating Officer of the Phoenix Mercury Vince Kozar has been with the organization since before the team drafted Griner and has always made it a priority to support the players who represent the organization.
“I’m proud of all of our players,” Kozar said. “If we’re doing anything as an organization, the hope is that we’re making those players feel supported, feel like there’s a place for their voices to be heard and feel like we’re right there with them in whatever their fight is. Whether it’s for equality, whether it’s for justice, whether it’s finding a cure for a terrible disease that has touch them personally, we’re there for them. I think courage like that needs to be praised, but also supported.”
Up until this year the Mercury have celebrated Pride Month on their home court, unifying fans to come together as one and provide a safe zone for those in need. For Kozar, who is openly gay, Pride is not only important to him personally, but is pillar of what the Mercury organization and entire league stand for.
“Pride is a platform of the WNBA,” Kozar said. “When we talk about what our league is, what our team is, what our players are, what our fans are, we talk about women. We talk about people of color, especially black women. We talk about the LGBTQ community and its allies. So, we celebrate Pride because it’s a part of our very core. It’s where our values are.”
The Mercury were pioneers in the sports world reaching out to connect to the LGBTQ community as Arizona’s first sports team to host a Pride Night, to sponsor Phoenix Pride, to march in the Pride Parade and to sign ONE Community’s Unity Pledge committing to non-discrimination in the workplace.
While many try to separate sports and social issues, Kozar believes it is important and necessary to use these given platforms to create change and justice in the world.
“There are a lot of ways that measurable social progress can be seen through the lens of sports,” Kozar said. “The color barrier is the easiest example of that, but we also see it in the women’s movement. We see it around LGBTQ folks. Organized team sports is an important part of that because we like to believe that the only thing that matters is whether or not you can perform, be a part of a team, be a good teammate and be good at your craft. The rest of that stuff that you could be discriminated against doesn’t matter.”
The support for Pride month and the LGBTQ community has only grown over the years as many key sports figures, organizations and leagues have begun to speak out in unity and fight against injustice.
“The NBA the last few years marched in the New York City Pride parade and celebrate Pride Nights at a lot of their venues,” Kozar said. “If we talk about visibility, some of the biggest brands in the world are professional sports teams and some of the biggest events televised in the world are live sporting events. For those places and organizations to stand up and say we’re inclusive, we welcome everyone and we embrace the LGBTQ community, that’s incredibly important.”
Due to postponement of the WNBA season, the Mercury unfortunately won’t be celebrating their seventh annual Pride night, but that doesn’t mean their support and outreach have fallen by the wayside. Through Griner’s shoes, the team’s community outreach and the continued elevation of the voices of their players, the Mercury are continuing now more than ever to bring people together.
“I think that especially with everything we’re going through now as a country, we’re seeing that it takes bravery to stand up and say things that people need to hear,” Kozar said. “It takes bravery to be an example to others, and to use your platform to make positive social and cultural change.”