In honor of Pride Month, NBC Out is highlighting and celebrating a new generation of LGBTQ trailblazers, creators and newsmakers. Visit our full #Pride30 list here.
WNBA star Brittney Griner made international headlines in March when it was revealed that Russian authorities had detained her in February.
Griner, 31, was arrested on drug charges after a search of her luggage found vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis, according to Russian officials. She was arrested as tensions between the West and Russia were rising over the Kremlin’s aggressiveness toward Ukraine.
The State Department determined last month that Griner, who was in Russia to play in the country’s professional league during the WNBA’s offseason, is being “wrongfully detained by the Russian government.”
Long before she became a household name, Griner, who is a lesbian, was a legend in LGBTQ sports history.
Griner has won two Olympic gold medals, a WNBA championship for the Phoenix Mercury — whom she signed with in 2013 — and a national title at Baylor University. In 2014, she became the first player to slam dunk in WNBA playoff history. It’s no wonder Griner, a 6-foot-9 native of Houston, is ranked as one of the top 25 WNBA players of all time since its founding in 1996.
She came out as a lesbian in 2013 when a Sports Illustrated reporter unexpectedly asked her about sexuality.
“In female sports, women’s sports, in the WNBA, players have already come out, and it’s really accepted. Why is there a difference between men and women in that issue?” the reporter, Maggie Gray asked.
“I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are. Again, like I said, just be who you are,” Griner told the magazine. “Don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because they’re always going to say something, but, if you’re just true to yourself, let that shine through. Don’t hide who you really are.”
Later that year, Griner revealed in an ESPN interview that she came out to her mom in the ninth grade but hid her sexuality publicly on the advice of her college coach, who urged her not to disclose it for recruitment purposes.
Cyd Zeigler, the founder of the LGBTQ sports site Outsports, said the “amazing part” of Griner’s coming out story is that she came out publicly at the beginning of her career.
“It’s very rare that an athlete at the very top of their game comes out, as they’re ascending, as they’re starting their career,” Zeigler said. “She was so confident in herself, so confident in acceptance in the WNBA, that she’s like: ‘Screw it! I can be whoever I want.’ That’s the beauty of her story.”
Griner’s absence from the WNBA season, which started May 6, has not gone unnoticed. The league has honored her by placing her number, 42, on all 12 arena courts for the 2022 season.
Griner’s pretrial detention has been extended to June 18, her lawyer said last month.