Brittney Griner Comes Out, Sells More Jerseys
When Phoenix Mercury rookie center Brittney Griner decided to come out as lesbian this April, all she expected was to be true to herself, and maybe to be an inspiration for other young lesbians in the world of sports.
What she didn’t expect was to see sales of her basketball jerseys skyrocket. According to WNBA retail figures, Griner is topping the league in jersey sales, and is credited with doubling TV household ratings for ESPN2, plus attendance and other merchandise sales.
"A lot of people are tuning in and watching our games and coming to our games," Griner told the Associated Press. "When I go into a sports bar some of the people I wouldn’t think would watch women’s basketball are there watching. There’s definitely more awareness."
Griner, who wears number 42 in honor of Major League Baseball’s first black player, Jackie Robinson, has led the WNBA in jersey sales since the start of the 2013 season, She now tops three other rookies who together, outsold the Minnesota Lynx’s Maya Moore, who had led jersey sales for two seasons.
As the number 1 pick in the WNBA draft in April, Griner is part of the "3 to See" -- rookies Skylar Diggins of the Tulsa Shock and Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky -- who claimed the top three spots. Out Minnesota Lynx player Seimone Augustus is also on the list, at No. 7. Griner joined Augustus as starters for the Western Conference WNBA All-Star game on July 27.
"For years we’ve heard that athletes risk their livelihood by coming out publicly," said Outsports publisher Cyd Zeigler, who broke the story last week. "But the fact that the sales of Brittney Griner and Jason Collins jerseys are skyrocketing shows that one, people will still buy your jerseys even when you are an out LGBT athlete, and two, that they might be even more likely to buy your jerseys, because it’s a new way to support these athletes. For years we have though of sexual orientation as something divisive, but it has become something that unites people."
The Associated Press interviewed Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins, and the topic of bullying was part of the discussion. Griner said she was "picked on for being different" while also acknowledging that she is a lesbian.
"Just being bigger, my sexuality, everything," she told the AP. "I overcame it and got over it. It’s definitely something that I am very passionate about. I want to work with kids and bring recognition to the problem, especially with the LGBT community."