Commentary

Brittney Griner's inspiring message

Updated: April 25, 2013, 1:57 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

Brittney Griner was so nonchalant and confident when she publicly acknowledged she is gay, you would have thought she just told the world that she liked potato chips.

"It really wasn't too difficult," Griner told SI.com during a group interview with Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, the No. 2 and No. 3 picks in the WNBA draft. "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."

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesWNBA president Laurel Richie, right, congratulates Brittney Griner after she is picked No. 1 in the draft.

The simplicity in Griner's answer was striking, and telling. It said a lot about who she is, and it sent a clear, inspirational message to any person who might be considering coming out.

There has been a lot of angst recently about openly gay professional athletes. How will they be accepted by teammates? Fans? The business community?

Griner reminded us that maybe we've spent too much time needlessly worrying about the wrong things.

There is no question that if Griner were the top pick in the NBA instead of the WNBA, the interest in this story would be much greater.

But if you think that this was easy for Griner because she's a woman, you're trivializing how sensitive and frightening the coming-out process can be.

Whether you're a man or woman, coming out isn't easy. And if, like Griner, you're a public figure, the process can be intimidating.

Put it this way: If it was so much easier for female athletes to come out, then why haven't there been more openly gay female athletes?

Minnesota Lynx star Seimone Augustus told "Outside the Lines" last summer that she was gay and planned to wed her longtime girlfriend. Martina Navratilova has been out for some time and while there have been a few others, this idea that gay female athletes don't face the same pressures and anxieties when coming out is insulting.

There also seems to be this myth that female athletes aren't judged and confined by archaic views of their femininity.

If a female athlete's behavior or appearance isn't stereotypically feminine, then she is denigrated.

This certainly was the case with Griner, long before she stated she is gay. The insults directed at her often were petty, immature and classless.

Griner doesn't need to wear stilettos and earrings to prove she's a woman. So I don't wonder as much about how Griner's revelation would have been received if she were a man, but what the reaction would have been like if Diggins had announced she were gay.

Still, too much of this conversation about gay athletes in sports is built around fear. And most of the talk has been relegated to two topics: men and football.

Griner, by comparison, gave us a model of what the coming out process should be like -- a big deal, but not a big deal.

"Being one that's out, it's just being who you are," Griner told SI.com. "Again, like I said, just be who you are."

Griner is a superstar, and even though her affirmation isn't a complete victory for progress, it offers some evidence that acceptance of openly gay professional athletes is at least moving in the right direction.

Her comments were also timely because as the top pick in the WNBA draft, she likely understands that there will be increased scrutiny. Baylor may have shielded her from some media attention, but that probably wasn't going to be the case with the Phoenix Mercury.

She has a right to live her life fully. What would have been the point in pretending?

Just be who you are.

Jemele Hill | email

ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine

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