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Why has Brittney Griner's decision to come out received so little media attention?

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The 2013 WNBA draft was held recently and, as expected, Baylor standout Brittney Griner was selected No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Mercury. Perhaps more unexpected was Griner's decision to casually come out as gay during an interview with Sports Illustrated after the draft. More unexpected still is that many people seem not to care. It is as if the sports world hasn't batted an eye with the revelation that the woman who is, arguably, the most popular female basketball player in the world right now has come out—through a nationally syndicated media outlet no less.

There has, however, been a great deal of media attention placed upon the possibility of a male professional athlete coming out of the closet while still active—even though this still hasn't happened in any of the four major US men's professional sports leagues. There is the sense that if a male professional athlete had done so that sports would effectively implode—the story dominating the news for days. Yet, when the No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick, and star of the women's college basketball landscape for years comes out as gay, there is silence.

Few media outlets have commented on the fact that Brittney Griner decided to very casually come out. However, much of the reporting uses the same tone as if discussing last night's baseball scores. Though some outlets have asked why there's been a lack of recognition for Griner, for the most part,  there isn't an aura of surprise or shock in these articles, just matter-of-fact telling of the event as it happened. Even though this shouldn't be, why does the media seemingly appraoch LGBT issues in women's and men's sports so differently?

The environment of casual, or outright, homophobia that persists in male versus female professional sports might account for some of the lack of media attention given to Griner.   Olympic Gold Medalist and former star of the United States Women's National Soccer Team Angela Hucles stated that "Any type of stigma [in athletics] attached to [being gay] will affect a players decision to come out." She went on to say, "A player is going to evaluate and see if they feel safe, if they don't feel safe in an environment then there is going to be that resistance to…actually coming out."

The fact also remains that female and male professional sports still have many inherent differences. "The sport of Soccer (in the United States), especially for women, tends to be more supportive...definitely the culture of the teams I played for were supportive," remembers Hucles of her time playing for the US National Team. This supportive environment reflects the changes that Hucles saw in women's soccer and society in relation to the acceptance and inclusion of LGBT athletes as she moved through her career.

Still, Nevin Caple, founder of the Br{ache the Silence Campaign, points out that just because there are differences between female and male professional sports doesn't mean that LGBT issues should be favored in one over the other. Additionally, she highlights the fact that LGBT intolerance can be just as prevalent in female as male sports. "Unfortunately, the public perception of an open and inclusive culture in women’s sports is far from the truth," states Caple in response to the media reaction to Brittney Griner's interview. "The media, especially those who consider themselves gay advocates, should view this as an opportunity to help educate the public on the harsh realities of homophobia in women’s sports, instead of claiming no one cares if a professional women's athlete comes out. Comments such as these are not only unsupported, but also diminish the female athlete experience, taking attention away from the underbelly issues that cause women’s coaches and athletes to remain closeted."

Caple notes that there has been an increasing acceptance of male athletes who identify as gay due to their use of athletics as a platform for more LGBT inclusion in sports. "We need to identify these voices on the women’s side," she says "but first they need to feel safe and supported. There’s a reason why Brittney Griner didn’t come out publically until after her college career ended." Both Caple and Hucles highlight the growing level of acceptance that has come about in the culture of women's professional sports, but they also help to show how this can hold back the continuing fight for acceptance.

Griner has been in discussion to try out for the (traditionally men's) NBA in the recent months. Maybe this is why people associated her with being masculine, or being gay. For some reason fans still see a woman trying to play a so-called "man's" sport as being a disconnect from everything that is feminine, and vice-versa, a man playing a sport typically associated with women is thought to be stereotypically feminine and therefore gay. It is important not to fall into this trap.

What Brittney Griner did in coming out in front of a national audience is one of the most courageous things an LGBT athlete could ever do. It deserves recognition as such, even if growing levels of acceptance permeate the sports environment. It is necessary to simultaneously revel in how far we have come while still recognizing how far we have to go.

See also: NBA's Jason Collins comes out, makes history

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