Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner is already one of the most feared women’s basketball players in history, and her journey to this point of her career has been chronicled in ESPN’s Nine for IX Documentary, Lifesize.
The short film will air on ESPN Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Griner had a dominant college basketball career with Baylor that included the 2012 NCAA National Championship. At 6’8” and 199 pounds, Griner proved to be a force in the defensive zone as an elite shot-blocker and emerged as a serious offensive threat as well.
After being selected No. 1 overall in the 2013 WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury, Griner revealed that she was gay in a series of interviews, including one with Sports Illustrated’s Maggie Gray:
It really wasn't too difficult, I wouldn't say I was hiding or anything like that. I've always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn't hard at all. If I can show that I'm out and I'm fine and everything's OK, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way.
Griner coming out was a huge moment in sports, and the acceptance and praise she has received since has been overwhelming. ESPN’s Lifesize documentary follows Griner's transition from college to the professional ranks and the influence it had on her life and personality.
That transition wasn't easy. Griner dealt with injuries and inconsistent play, racking up only 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and three blocks per game.
One move that helped improve her game and furthered her maturing process, however, was the decision to play in China during the offseason.
According to the ESPN video, Griner made $600,000 overseas last year as compared to her $49,000 salary in the WNBA. Her time with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls wasn’t just beneficial fiscally, though; it was also a learning opportunity in terms of on-court performance and the mental strength needed to travel the road.
With a life full of experiences at only 23 years old, Griner decided to write a book entitled, In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court. The book talked about the bullying she dealt with and how she overcame adversity to be where she is today.
When asked about why she wrote her book, Griner told Michelle Garcia of Advocate.com about helping young people going through the same issues and being someone they can look up to in times of need:
I know there are younger kids and teens that are going through the same things that I went through, coming out, and kind of finding themselves. I wanted to write my memoir so I could show them I was there, I made it through, even when I was at my lowest moments. I still pushed through and I made it. When I was growing up I really didn't have a role model in sports who came out early in their career — to give me hope.
Griner’s willingness to open herself to the world in order to help others is admirable, and she should be applauded for breaking down barriers for people who have been mistreated and have felt alienated over the years.
The ESPN documentary will take sports fans through her journey from Baylor to the WNBA and over to China as she grows into a young adult. The experiences obviously changed Griner on the court, as she came back to Phoenix and had a great 2014 season, amassing 15.6 points, eight rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game, but her true strength now is her mental toughness.
On and off the court, Griner has become one of the faces for women’s basketball, but her influence goes beyond sports. The courage she has shown regarding her sexuality is inspiring to people and she should be considered a true role model.
Lifesize captures the story of Griner perfectly.
*Stats via WNBA.com.