Terri Coles
June 12, 2013

Basketball Star Brittney Griner Is Boosting the WNBA’s Profile

WNBA star Brittney Griner is an amazing basketball player, and just a few months into her first season after being her league’s top draft pick, she’s increasing interest in the women’s sport and her team, the Phoenix Mercury.

The stats on the 6’8″ star’s impact on women’s basketball, outlined in a ESPN article today, are impressive. Ticket sales for the Mercury are up 39 percent over last year, and group ticket sales are up 33 percent. Ticket package revenue so far this season is already higher than for all of 2010, a championship year for Phoenix. Front-row sideline and press-row courtside seats are sold out, and single-game tickets for the season opener created the largest WNBA single-game revenue since 1998.

The list goes on, but that gives you the idea: Brittney Griner is a big deal, and her entire league is feeling the ripple effects. Other teams are marketing their games with Phoenix, and Griner is popular with kids and adult fans of both genders, as well as the media. It seems like her star appea l– not hurt a bit by her ability to dunk — could be a tipping point for women’s basketball’s popularity.

That all sounds like a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old woman who is just out of college; she was arguably the best-known women’s basketball player in the country even when she was in college, but her profile has shot up considerably in a short period of time. To hear those around her tell it, though, she’s taking it all in stride:

“She smiled, she talked to people, and it was a lot, much more than we usually ask the players to do,” Mercury public relations director Rebecca Clark said. “And she was happy to do it. There are times I feel bad asking her to do one more thing and she just rolls with it.”

And despite the public spotlight she’s under, Griner has remained open about her personal life, stating her commitment to anti-bullying efforts and discussing her sexuality — and the pressures she faced in college as both a lesbian and a sports star — in an ESPN interview.

Griner told ESPN that was encouraged by her college, Baylor, to keep her sexuality under wraps:

“It feels so good saying it: I am a strong, black lesbian woman. Every single time I say it, I feel so much better.”

But she has come out of it strong, and contrary to what her school may have feared, it doesn’t seem to have hurt her popularity at all. Griner’s celebration of who she is is refreshing. She’s the first openly gay athlete to sign with Nike, and she’ll wear both men and women’s clothing in her ads. She’s just fine with where she falls on the spectrum: “So many people exist between the two ends of the spectrum, but no one wants to admit it. If you’re in between, they say something is wrong with you. ‘We can fix you.’ Well, I don’t need fixing.”

That’s such an inspiring and powerful attitude to send out not just to other queer youth — especially in June, which is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month – but to young women in general.