Brittney Griner is wasting no time in her barrier-breaking professional career. The #1 WNBA draft pick for the Phoenix Mercury made her professional basketball career debut last month with two dunks in a single game, setting a WNBA record at the same time. And this week she’s on the cover of ESPN magazine’s Taboo issue. In it, writer Kate Fagan reveals that Griner’s Nike contract breaks the mold for female basketball players’ endorsement deals.
Not only is Griner the first openly gay athlete to sign with Nike, her contract will allow her to wear clothes branded as menswear. It’s in keeping with Griner’s personal expression of her gender and sexuality, something she’s been forging since high school.
In the fall of 2005, the six-foot Griner showed up at Nimitz High wearing men’s sneakers, oversize jeans and a baggy shirt, trying the stud label on for size. Her friends looked her up and down and said, “All right, B, we see you,” putting her at ease. She also took up basketball that year, making the jump from volleyball, then grew six more inches before her sophomore season. The taunts didn’t stop – when she entered a gym, guys would yell, “Yo, you can untuck now!” – but Griner felt reborn. “I decided to just put myself out there,” she says. “When I’m in a dress, it’s like, ‘What am I doing in this?’ I feel trapped, like I’m in shackles and handcuffs and a straitjacket. So I was just like, F— it, I’m going to wear what I want. I caught hell for it, but it felt so good being myself.”
Androgynous models are coveted in high-end fashion, but the trend toward gender-neutral clothing has only just begun to reach the sports world, with NBA stars Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade blurring the lines in their tight jeans and fitted sweaters. No sports apparel company has taken it a step further and expressly targeted the gender-fluid crowd – and whether Nike is willing to ride the edge with Griner remains to be seen. “We can’t get into specifics,” says Nike spokesman Brian Strong, “but it’s safe to say we jumped at the opportunity to work with her because she breaks the mold.”
Griner relishes the chance to show her evolved style, saying she doesn’t see herself as a certain “type” anymore. Others might call her a stud, but she’s just BG now. “It clicked for me,” she says. “I used to do the whole baggy, hard-core, I’m-a-boy look. Then I went through a preppy phase. Now I have the athletic, bow-tie look. I found my style.”
The article is a great conversation of gender, sexuality, style and sports icons. And it’s a beautiful portrait of Griner and her hard-won self-assurance. Read the rest at ESPN.com.