While the WNBA's Brittney Griner continues to establish herself as one of the top athletes in the game, her awe-inspiring presence doesn't disappear when the game ends. Since becoming the first openly gay athlete to have been endorsed by Nike, Griner is taking on a different kind of opponent off the court: gender norms.
Her contract with Nike allows her to model men's clothing, which is not only remarkable for the LGBT community, but for Griner herself.
"I used to do the whole baggy, hard-core, I'm-a-boy look," said Griner. "Then I went through a preppy phase. Now I have the athletic, bow-tie look. I found my style."
In spite of the dreadful comments she receives for her height, deep voice, and androgynous appearance, Griner sees the chance to model men's clothing as a way to show off her own security with the person she is — and loves.
"Reading what people say makes me want to be me even more," she said after reading a few such messages. "I am 100% happy. When I was at Baylor, I wasn't fully happy because I couldn't be all the way out. It feels so good saying it: I am a strong, black, lesbian woman. Every single time I say it, I feel so much better."
Though Griner is receiving the same payment from Nike as other female endorsees — between $5,000 and $15,000 — it's not the money that matters to her, but the opportunity. Both her agent and Nike share similar sentiments that her sponsorship deal could break ground for other companies to embrace such inclusion.
"She can change the way people think," said Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner's agent. "And her success will mean society is working a little better for everyone."
Androgynous models are valuable in high fashion, but in athletics, gender fluidity is something to be scorned. You know this diatribe: female athletes, especially softball players and MMA fighters, are lesbians, while male athletes who are cheerleaders or danseurs — male ballet dancers — are gay. It's harmful, it's wrong, and unfortunately it's a very common view within today's culture of sports.
But Griner's determination and exuberance could change all of this, especially for women. She is the kind of role model any young girl, athlete or not, could ever dream of having. And as she continues overcoming her own seemingly insurmountable odds, she will pave the way for thousands of girls — or anyone inspired by her courage, her personality, and her love of the game — to not only keep their heads held high when it feels like the world is against them, but to love themselves as they are.