Yes, the world of professional sport is still a tough place to be gay or bi, but sometimes, brave athletes will make the whole industry move one step forward. WNBA's Brittney Griner proposed to Glory Johnson on Thursday, posting a picture of their engagement via Instagram on Friday. Quite apart from being "awww"-inducing, the photo is an important celebration of two major athletes whose industry is still far from accepting.
Griner, who is a two-time WNBA All-Star for the Phoenix Mercury and the 2012 AP Division I Player of the Year, has become somewhat of a poster-girl for lesbian athletes, ever since she came out last year. Her memoir, In My Skin, details the homophobia she previously had to deal with at Baylor University, where her coach would warn her about keeping her displays of affection private. "Other players, they can go out on Valentine's Day with their boyfriends and it'd be no problem," Griner told People, back in May. "I go out with my girlfriend, I'm getting a phone call, 'Brittney, what were you doing on Valentine's Day?' I had to take my Tweet down. I was like, why do I have to take my Tweet down when my teammates don't have to take theirs down?"
Which is partly what makes Friday's announcement so poignant. The picture shows Griner on one knee, holding out an engagement ring to Johnson, who plays for the Tulsa Shock. “Last Night was a Night to Remember I became the happiest person on this earth! (almost pass out but when that one word came out I came back to life) Me and my baby @missvol25 are in it for Life!” Griner wrote with the picture. Later, a photo posted on Johnson's Instagram account showed Griner asleep with the diamond ring resting on her back. The couple have been together for two months.
Somewhat fittingly, the engagement comes as this year's Gay Games culminated in Cleveland, Ohio. The Games, which take place every four years, bring together thousands of LGBT participants from across the world for a week of athletics competition and cultural festivities. As Kelly Murphy-Stevens, a board member of the Federation of Gay Games, told The Guardian: “Many countries that have very anti-LGBT policies, if you’re doing a sports event they will give it a pass.They just can’t imagine that this is a big deal. . . . It’s a huge human rights event that we’ve wrapped in sport.”
Hopefully, Griner and Johnson's engagement announcement will go a long way in encouraging others, professional athletes or otherwise, to be proud of their sexual orientation. As Griner told People: "People tell me I'm going to break the barrier and trailblaze. I just kind of look at it like, I'm just trying to help out, I'm just trying to make it where it's not as tough for the next generation."