Brittney Griner And The Uncomfortable Tension of Tolerance

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Bryce Cherry, sports editor for the Waco Tribune-Herald wrote a great piece about his perspective on the Brittney Griner v. Baylor culture storyline.  Perhaps it is not a major storyline on many of the sports media outlets you may be reading.  But for folks in and around Wacoland, Griner’s comments have caused no shortage of heartache and disappointment.

Griner is set to release a memoir of her life and basketball career to this point (She is 23 years of age) entitled In My Skin.  Through a series of preview excerpts Griner has lobbed her own bomb into the current discussion about being Gay and tolerance and university life.  Cherry’s piece highlights some of these comments.

“I would love to be an ambassador for Baylor, to show my school pride, but it’s hard to do that,” Griner writes. “It’s hard to stand up and say ‘Baylor is the best!’ when the administration has a written policy against homosexuality. I’ve spent too much of my life being made to feel like there’s something wrong with me. And no matter how much support I felt as a basketball player at Baylor, it doesn’t erase all the pain I felt there.”

No doubt, Griner existed during a unique time in Baylor sports history and she was not able to be the only big-time athlete on campus. Whether intentional or not, she would always be viewed against the outspokenly God-following, church going, heterosexual, genius, Heisman winner RGIII.  She would be viewed against the outspokenly God-fearing, church going, heterosexual, dunk machine Quincy Acy. She would be viewed against the outspokenly evangelistic, church going, super-marriage guy, Nick Florence.  And Brittney was not outspoken about God, not heterosexual, and not an ambassador.

But as Cherry notes over and again in the article, Griner was nonetheless beloved and embraced at Baylor and by Wacoans.

During her four years in Waco, Baylor always had Griner’s back. Baylor’s administration, coaches and fans stuck up for her when the rest of the world wouldn’t.

And again:

But Baylor didn’t just defend Griner — it embraced her. It wrapped its arms around her, Bear-hug style, and didn’t let go. Fans turned out in droves to watch her warm up, much less play. Legions of pint-sized, pony-tailed future ballers wore her No. 42 jersey. She became a fixture in Waco, as ubiquitous as Dr Pepper, and fans still approached her for autographs and photo ops everywhere she went.

This is, no doubt, a complex matter and I personally feel for Brittney.  But remember that everyone has a unique story.  Remember that Griner committed to Baylor in 2007 during her sophomore year (and maybe unofficially at an earlier date). Let’s assume that her sexual orientation was not fully understood or appreciated at this point in her development as a woman.  Let’s also assume that she had not fully developed as a theological thinker.  Let’s also assume that she has historically attended a black church growing up and that this community of believers colored the way she would approach and understand sexuality.  The Black church in America has always (I repeat always) had to wrestle with and worship among gay church members in ways that (I don’t think) white churches can fully appreciate or understand.

So put all those assumptions together.

If Griner had committed to Baylor as a 15 year old, if she never knew a world where being gay and Christian caused drastic drama, if she was not even fully aware of the ramifications of sexual orientation and sexual identity, then it would make sense that she would be blindsided by the prospects of coming of age (sexually and theologically) within a culture where gay and Christian were not permitted to coexist in tension.  Wouldn’t this set of assumptions explain Griner’s realized blindsidedness? Why Griner harbors such strong feelings today? Why she would consider Baylor to be an intolerant Christian university?  Why she would have not been able to be an RGIII type of ambassador?

Again, I feel for Griner.  But I also suspect that the theological/sexual development process played a much bigger role in her experience.  I suspect that Baylor’s culture was not out to get her or any other gay students.

Baylor has always been Baylor.  That doesn’t mean that Griner was fully aware of the decision she was making to come play for Baylor.  It also doesn’t absolve Baylor from intentionally recruiting a student-athlete who may not be in keeping with the university’s culture on sexuality (Which would set this student athlete up for heartache and frustration). But it does mean that Baylor has plenty of evidence to suggest that their pro-heterosexual Christianity is less of a capricious attack on an individual student and more of a consistently applied culture.  And in light of this consistent culture, I would also say that Baylor has been, as I have written before, a flawed but honest example of Christian tolerance.

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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