By Michael Gold
The Baltimore Sun
7:30 AM EDT, May 22, 2013
Jason Collins' coming out received large media fanfare. Brittney Griner's was met with something close to a yawn.
The debate over what caused the difference has been pretty public, with some pointing to sexism, others to the way heterosexual men react to gay men and one commentator noting that society doesn't perceive lesbian athletes to be playing against type in the same way it views gay male athletes.
Addressed in all three perspectives is the widespread perception that lesbian athletes have an easier time being open about their sexuality on the court and in the locker room. Whatever the source of the assumption that out female athletes aren't met with homophobia, it's at the heart of the perceived indifference (or, in Griner's case, a national shrug) most female athletes receive when they come out.
Except that assumption is misleading. Case in point: During a recent interview, Griner said her college coach Kim Mulkey told players not to be publicly open about their sexuality because it would look bad for Baylor's basketball program.
"The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it," Griner told espnW's Kate Fagan, "people wouldn't let their kids come play for Baylor."
Mulkey declined to comment, but some former Baylor players have rushed to her defense. But in doing so, none of them really refuted Griner's remarks or Baylor's alleged "don't ask, don't tell" approach. More crucially, one said some college basketball programs choose not to bring in players who "look a certain type of way." She didn't elaborate, but I read the quote as implying that schools shy away from athletes who "look" like lesbians. The troubling aspects of that practice ought to be evident enough.
Even if Griner's assessment of the situation isn't quite accurate (and given the Baylor handbook's language on "understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching," I've got no reason to doubt her), she has drawn attention to the obstacles faced by lesbian and bisexual athletes who wish to live publicly open lives.
Some homophobia clearly lingers in women's sports, and all too often, it's swept under the rug. As a growing number of female athletes follow in Griner's footsteps and come out, it's time to fully address it.
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