Brittney Griner is using her platform to provide an uplifting voice for those in need

By Cody Cunningham

Brittney Griner was only in junior high when another girl walked up to her and patted Griner’s upper torso.

“See, she is a boy. She doesn’t have a chest,” the girl exclaimed to the other students around them.

In complete shock and embarrassment, Griner froze and began questioning her own body image, wondering why she didn’t look like the other girls in her class.

“I just remember feeling like a weirdo, feeling like an outcast,” Griner said. “It really messed with my head a lot … I felt like I was on an exhibit, like at a carnival or something, like I’m the freak.”

Griner has heard snide remarks over the years about her 6-foot-9 frame, the tone of her voice, her sexuality or the color of her skin. But now comfortable and proud of who she is and what makes her unique, Griner is using her platform as a seven-time All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury to speak out against bullying, becoming an idol for those going through similar verbal and physical abuse.

However, Griner didn’t always carry that same confidence. Throughout middle school and high school, name calling and judgmental comments were nearly an everyday occurrence for her. She felt embarrassment and shame, but always kept her emotions bottled up.

“That was probably the worst thing I could have ever (done),” Griner said. “I would write in journals to myself sometimes, but I was so nervous somebody would find it, like my mom, dad or sister. So I would like just rip it up or burn it in the backyard.”

Griner was too scared to speak out and instead spent her childhood dealing with these issues on her own. It’s something she regrets, as she witnessed those emotions turn into built-up anger rather than channeling them into a better outlet.

It was a slow growth that led Griner to build that confidence over time. But coming into the WNBA, and being around others like her and in an organization that stands with her, allowed Griner to proclaim, “I’m not hiding who I am.”

“I got tired of feeling like crap,” Griner said. “I went through some really bad times, really depressing times. I’ve talked about suicide before. So I just got tired of being that person.”

Known as a happy, giddy and playful person in the locker room, at practice and among her friends, Griner wanted that version of herself to be seen by the rest of the world. Instead of feeling guilty about who she was, she began to embrace her differences and focused on her own happiness rather than others’ opinions.

“Just something clicked in me and I was like, ‘Look, I’m cool. I’m good. If somebody doesn’t like me, oh well.’ I just got that mentality, like, ‘f ‘em,” Griner said. “I’m going to be who I am. I’m going to be gay. Going to be Black. I’m going to have a deep voice. I’m going to dress how I want to dress.”

That doesn’t mean the bullying stopped. In early May, the Mercury posted a video of Griner on Tik Tok announcing her arrival in Phoenix for training camp. The nearly 700,000 views were the most for any video on the team’s channel, and it also drew nearly 115,000 likes. While the Mercury fans were excited to see her in the building, the comment section reflected a different message, filled with hate, bigotry and sexism.

“Why is her voice deeper than mine”
“Who is this talented young man”
“If ladies and gentlemen was a person”

The first three comments garnered thousands of likes of their own as people hid behind their cryptic usernames and profile pictures in order to conceal their identity while attacking a complete stranger. Griner said that, while those remarks may not hurt her the way they used to, it still surprises her at how low people will stoop.

“I would love to say that (my confidence has) shut out all the noise, but I’m human,” Griner said.

The morning of this conversation, Griner received a direct message from someone cussing her out and calling her and her friends men because of the way they dress and act.

“It made me so upset this morning when I read it,” Griner said. “I just wanted to go off, but that’s just me being mad at the fact that somebody just wants to sit behind a computer and purposely try to mess up somebody’s day.

“For a moment, I was upset. But then I got over it. If I didn’t have the mentality that I have, that would have hurt me. I would’ve been like, ‘Maybe I should dress like this or maybe I should do this.’ And then you start changing yourself for somebody you don’t even know.”

At 30 years old, Griner has already carved out a historic basketball career. One of the most dominant collegiate athletes ever, Griner reached a global status as a gold medalist and a WNBA champion, while also playing overseas during the offseason. Griner embraces her platform that she spent countless hours grinding and sweating in the gym in order to reach. Now, she is using that platform, along with the memories of her challenging past, to become the helping hand that she wished she had growing up.

In 2014, Griner released her book “In my Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court.” In it, she shared her journey of how she was able to overcome that childhood bullying and embrace her authentic self. Griner didn’t realize the impact her book would make until people from all different genders, sexualities and backgrounds began reaching out to thank her for providing an uplifting voice to a neglected audience.

“You never know that your story could touch so many people,” Griner said. “When I was coming up, I didn’t have anybody that looked like me that was out in the media saying what I’m saying.”

Griner hopes to provide a representation for others and proof that it will get better, while assisting in suicide prevention and giving a reminder to check on friends and family members.

The Mercury organization remains at the forefront of sports when it comes to elevating their players’ messages and speaking out on social issues. They embrace their players’ similarities and differences, stand by their sides and are dedicated to finding partners that share these similar beliefs, such as the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Griner is proud to play for an organization that unites its players, coaching staff, front office and partners to form one positive, powerful and cohesive voice.

“It just makes me feel more at home here. It’s not just an organization and I’m just a player. It makes it feel like family here with the Mercury,” Griner said.

How Griner initially handled being bullied is how many children and teenagers react. According to MustStopBullying.org, only 20 – 30 percent of students who are bullied tell adults or authorities. Encouraging youth to talk to a trusted teacher, counselor, parent, or other adult will help them feel less alone; and an adult can help with making plans to stop the bullying. MustStopBullying.com provides resources to parents and children to identify the situation, hold open discussions and educate themselves in ways to overcome the challenges of bullying.

For those dealing with bullying — whether in person or online, whether about race, sexuality or body image, whether as a child or as an adult — Griner is dedicated to spreading the message that everyone is who they are for a reason and that they should embrace their individuality.

“You owe it to yourself, first and foremost,” Griner said. “Just be who you are and know that there are people out there that will help you. All you have to do is just let us know and reach out. There are so many people that are willing to help give resources and give you a safe place, because everybody deserves a good quality of life.

“We only get one of them. So we gotta take care of them.”

MustStopBullying.org: You have the power to help stop bullying. Bullying won’t stop unless we all stop looking the other way, and get involved. You don’t have to be a superhero. Just doing something, anything can go a long way to help end bullying. Continue to change the culture and help put an end to bullying.

For more resources, visit: MustStopBullying.org