Having always marched to the beat of her own drummer, Brittany Griner’s career has been defined by both accomplishment and controversy. From not suiting up for the US at the 2012 London Summer Games, to speculation over being selected for the 2013 NBA Draft, Griner always seemed to be maligned. While she may just be understood, her courage in revealing her same-sex preference early in her WNBA career showed tremendous courage.
While she has established herself as one of the elite competitors in the WNBA, another bizarre chapter in her career has unfolded. Griner and her fiancée, Tulsa Shock forward Glory Johnson were both arrested for domestic violence under charges related to suspicion of assault and disorderly conduct.
Johnson’s sister summoned the police after the engaged couple became involved in a heated dispute (with objects being thrown at each other) at their new home in suburban Phoenix. Of note, there were minor injuries suffered by both, including a bite mark on Griner’s finger, although medical treatment was not necessary.
Although Griner did end up pleading guilty to the disorderly conduct charge, it remains held on the condition that she can successfully complete 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling. Upon completion, all charges shall be dismissed. While Griner issued an apology through her lawyer, this is not the first incident in her career. During her freshman season at Baylor, she punched Jordan Barncastle, a player for Texas Tech.
Scheduled to marry next month, before the 2015 WNBA season starts, Griner disclosed to local members of the media that the couple endured stress over wedding plans and the purchase of their home. Last season, Griner helped lead the Phoenix Mercury to a 2014 title, while setting a WNBA single season record for most blocks (129) in one season. Griner may likely face more questions from media about the arrest as the season starts, possibly making this her most difficult season, which may damper the Mercury’s hopes of repeating as champions.
In the wake of all the problems that the NFL has faced with domestic violence, the WNBA is suddenly dealing with such a grim reality. Said reality is that such an incident is a black eye on the game. Considering that the fallout has generated more publicity than most other WNBA-related events, it is a very sad reflection on the attention shown towards the fledgling league.
Although same-sex relationships are a much more public reality in women’s sports, one aspect that has never been given discussion is domestic violence among same-sex couples (men and women). Suddenly, the saga between Griner and Johnson brings this much hidden topic into the forefront, forcing awareness of the matter. In a time when many athletes are just looking to summon the courage to come out,
Taking into account that it is very rare for female athletes to be the victims of bad press, this is obviously new territory for the WNBA. It is up to the WNBA to show strong leadership and speak out on the matter. When Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, then-commissioner David Stern stood behind him at the press conference, showing his support.
Although this is a very different situation, the WNBA commissioner should have flown to Phoenix, met with team officials and hold a press conference discussing what transpired and working towards solutions. Going forward, the WNBA must not ignore this issue, as it would only tarnish its reputation. As a side note, there was not even any news on the WNBA site about the arrest.
The time is now for the WNBA to emerge and establish a program to work on awareness of same-sex domestic violence, through the availability of educational programs and counseling services. It would also set a very important precedent as other sports, including hockey and tackle football, consist of athletes that have publicly discussed their orientation. While it would be hopeful that such an incident never repeats itself, other sports now have to face the reality that such same-sex domestic violence issues could occur one day. Should awareness of domestic violence among same-sex couples increase over this incident, it would be the only silver lining in this otherwise very dark cloud.