Jason Collins and Brittney Griner have made professional sports history by coming out in a patriarchal society. That means what each has courageously done is seen differently.
Before going any further, I want to make clear that I applaud and appreciate NBA professional Jason Collins for coming out. As I wrote earlier, it continues to take courage for everyone to do this. It shouldn’t, but it does. And I think it will continue to do so, probably for quite some time.
It’s fantastic that Collins came out, and it’s wonderful that he’s receiving such massive support, including from Barack and Michelle Obama, and many other politicos, celebrities, professional athletes, and many of the rest of us not noticed by the media. Of course the predictable anti-LGBT stuff is also appearing.
So, to the “patriarchal” focus. I also mentioned Baylor University’s Brittney Griner in the earlier post. Griner has been called the “best player in women’s college basketball.” There’s been conversation about her trying out for the NBA “” that received both positive and the predictable negative, and extremely sexist and homophobic, responses. From OpEdNews:
On April 15th, 2013 Brittney Griner … was selected as the number one pick in the WNBA draft; she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury and will play alongside the legendary point guard Diana Taurasi. Three days later SportsWorld buzzed with the news that Brittney Griner had “˜come out’ as gay.
“Buzzed” is a good description. With Collins, though, it’s more like an explosion of sound. Neither of these two very talented basketball players are responsible for how others respond to them. Both deserve praise and appreciation for their courage in coming out. It takes nothing away from either, though, to acknowledge the big difference in how the responses to the news about coming out differed. There are no doubt multiple factors related to Collins and Griner, including that Collins is a professional player of 14 years, while Griner is just about to begin her professional career. They are in very different places.
But most fundamentally, the difference is about gender. It’s about the fact that we still live in a society in which patriarchy maintains a huge role.
“Men’s” sports are where the big money is. Male athletes are often still the norm by which women athletes are unfairly and unrealistically measured, often in a “less than” way. “She passes the ball like a boy!” can be meant as complimentary and uncomplimentary. In either case, it’s inaccurate. “She” passes like who she is.
Add coming out as gay and lesbian, and you now have the homophobic, or even just less informed, element along with the sexist. And in Griner’s case, transphobia. She isn’t transgender, but apparently some people simply can’t handle that a woman could be that good, and they proudly come out to display their ignorance of both the abilities of women and the realities of those who are transgender.
At The Advocate, Ella Vincent writes of Griner:
She is one of the rare athletes to come out as an active player. It was a moment that showed how far America has progressed “” but also how far it still has to go. Google her and “˜Brittney Griner man’ shows up as often as her dunks when she played for Baylor University.
In the video below, in a Good Morning America interview this morning, Jason Collins includes identifying professional tennis star, Martina Navratilova, as a role model. Navratilova came out in 1981, and forever holds in a place on my “favorite quotes” list when she responded to a question from a male, sports reporter “” “Are you still lesbian?” “” with “Are you still the alternative?” Kudos to Collins for some more courage, because for a professional male athlete to call a retired professional woman athlete a “role model” takes some courage in itself.
When Navratilova, and professional tennis colleague Billie Jean King, came out, it was to intense and persistent negativity. They were “too masculine.” That’s still a familiar refrain in our, though with progress, still patriarchal nation.
Angela Hattery writes at OpEdNews:
… (T)he culture of hypermasculinity that characterizes college and professional football (and men’s basketball) creates a site of intense resistance to homosexuality, especially among men.
In contrast, the culture of women’s sports, which is often characterized as a somewhat masculinized female institution, has included lesbians for decades and even embraced them in the last twenty years or so. …
For example, … the New York Times’ headline reporting Griner’s decision to come out read “˜Female Star Comes Out as Gay, and Sports World Shrugs.’
About Griner herself, Hattery writes:
She makes it clear that if you have a problem with her … that is in fact your problem and not hers.
What an outstanding lesson for all of us. Our sexuality shouldn’t be anyone else’s concern except our own.
While there is something of a “shrug” attitude at the WNBA and in the sports world in general concerning lesbians, that is far from universal. And, in fact, the sexism of patriarchy continues to show up. It isn’t just “oh, we know about the lesbian players,” it’s “women athletes just aren’t as good as men.”
Back to Vincent, at The Advocate:
Women’s sports, especially Griner’s future employers at the WNBA, often offer a “˜feminine’ image of women’s basketball. … (S)ports publicists and executives often make over female athletes to make them non-threatening to the mainstream. …
“Non-threatening,” as in feminized in an acceptable manner to “traditional” gender appearance.
Thinking of Collins and Griner: Does the greater attention to a man coming out mean it’s “easier” for women? Or is that in itself an indication of sexism at work? Is the greater attention all about the money, as in male professional athletes make a lot more of it, because a lot more people are willing to pay to see men than women play sports? It’s a complex situation, but my perspective is that at the root, it’s about gender and heterosexism, as defined and maintained by a patriarchal view.