Brittney Griner opens up and bares all
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In early April, reporter Morty Ain spoke with Brittney Griner about all things Body -- from growth-spurt pains and size 17 shoes to being bullied and coming out to her parents. Then, on April 22, the conversation around Griner changed. She and then-fiancee Glory Johnson, also of the WNBA, were arrested at their home in Arizona on charges of assault and disorderly conduct. The police report described the incident as "mutual combat." On April 28, Griner pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct (the assault charge was dropped) and agreed to undergo 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling, after which the disorderly conduct charge will also be dropped. Johnson has pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and assault; her case is ongoing. On June 5, less than a month after the two married, Griner filed for an annulment. Following the arrests, the WNBA suspended both Griner and Johnson for seven games. Griner resumed playing on June 27, while Johnson, now pregnant, is sitting out the season. (Johnson did not return requests for comment.) As part of a follow-up interview for the Body Issue, espnW reporter Kate Fagan sat down with Griner to discuss the incident. The following is pulled from both interviews.
ON HER ARREST You know, you do something, you have to pay the price for it, and I understand that. I understand what I did was wrong. [The incident] was mutual; they call it "mutual combat." And that's what it was. But I wish I had walked away. No matter what it is, walk away from an altercation. You see it getting heated, you see it escalating ... walk away no matter what. That was my worst decision; I should've left. Because it never ends good. Domestic violence is never OK, no matter what the situation.
I knew one of my first steps was to get help. And actually, I was in counseling the next day -- the day I got released from jail, early that morning, that day I went to counseling. You just learn so much -- things you didn't even think you needed to work on...warning signs that can help you prevent yourself from getting into tough situations. Everybody needs their own mission statement. You know, you think just an organization or a company would have that, but honestly, everybody needs their own mission statement. Setting boundaries for yourself, setting a mission statement for yourself, just little things like that.
My plan now? Just submerge myself in basketball, honestly. Practicing, getting the team better, getting myself better. I had to sit out seven games, and not playing sucked so bad. For every game, I felt like I'm just letting down my team.
ON HER BODY I'd describe myself as athletically lanky. I want to show people that. I'm comfortable in my body and I don't mind putting it on display. Honestly, I like how unique it is. My big arms, my bigger hands, these long legs-I love being different. If everybody was the same, it'd be a boring-ass world.
I'm sure people are going to have a lot of critical things to say [about these photos]. "Yo, she's a man!" But hey, that's my body and I look the way I look. People are either going to accept me for who I am or they're not. I don't know what people think I'm hiding. I've heard, "Oh, she's not a female, she's a male." I've been told, "Oh, she's tucking stuff." They thought I was tucking. I mean, [in the Body Issue] it's out there. Let me show that I embrace the flatness! I just want people to see somebody who embraces being naked, embraces everything about them being different.
Being 6-foot-8, I definitely get stares. I think my feet are bigger than Kareem's. They are size 17 men's. My hands are even bigger than LeBron's. I could palm a basketball since I was a freshman in high school. For me, it's a very tall world. Just walking around, it's kind of like being on display at a museum, like being on display 24/7.
When I first started playing basketball, my coordination was horrible! I went into high school at 6 feet and left at 6-7 and then grew another inch in college. Catching the ball, it was bad. I've always been pretty athletic, but when I got really tall, I just felt awkward. And I had crazy knee pain in about seventh and eighth grade. It was hell for me to sit down in the school chairs with the seat connected to the desk. I hated it! I'd just be sitting there dealing with pain ... even excruciating knee pain just walking. But in ninth grade, it just stopped. I guess it was my pre-growth-spurt pain. It was the worst.
ON BEING BULLIED When I was younger, I definitely got picked on for my size and my voice, which has always been deep. I never wanted to speak up in class. I didn't want to hear myself; I hated the way I sounded. I couldn't listen. They teased me about everything, my different voice, my stature, my chest. I've always been flat-chested. I remember around sixth or seventh grade the "cool girls" would reach out and touch my chest: "Yep, nothing." I felt like less than a person. It was crazy. I felt frozen. That was one of the worst things they could do.
It definitely weighed on me. I just wanted to be one of "the normal kids." I used all that teasing as my fuel, honestly. I was always a very aggressive player. I imagined those girls touching my chest, all the time. Being called a boy all the time. Playing volleyball, I would spike the ball every chance I got, just trying to return the favor of all that frustration.
I definitely lashed out a lot. I definitely got in trouble for fighting. I was just at rock bottom. I was really depressed and really sad ... getting teased all the time, people telling me that I'm a freak. But being silent was probably the worst thing I could have done. I wasn't talking to anyone about how I felt. I would write in a journal, but I'd always write it down, tear it out and then rip it up and throw it away.
My big arms, my bigger hands, these long legs-I love being different. If everybody was the same, it'd be a boring world.Brittney Griner
But dunking changed everything. At the end of my sophomore year, I dunked in a game and it hit YouTube and blew up. All that teasing stopped when I started playing basketball. You become that cool person when you start playing sports and you prove you're good at it. That's when everything started to change big time for me. But speaking up would have helped me out a lot. I want to tell my younger self, and kids who are going through what I went through: Don't be scared to reach out and grab some help. Don't try to fit in-be who you are, express yourself. I definitely want to be remembered as one of the great WNBA defenders, but I also want to be known as a person who helped out kids with being bullied.
ON GENDER IDENTITY I got called a boy all the time. Going into the bathroom, I still get the shocked look, like, "Are you supposed to be in here?" But I'm so used to it now, I'm just like, "I'm a girl, I'm in the right bathroom." In China, it happens all the time! One time when I went into the bathroom there, a lady was so shocked that she was pushing me out; she was so hysterically shocked that I was in there. I couldn't do anything but laugh. I didn't even try to defend myself and tell her I was a girl. I ended up just going over to the men's room and went into one of the stalls. I've even had to do that in the States a couple of times.
I don't like labels. But [gender roles] are instilled in you as a kid. I was told to pick which one I wanted to be-masculine or feminine. I'm like, well, I kind of want to be both, because that's who I am. I mean, sometimes I'm feminine, sometimes I'm emotional. And then sometimes-you see me on the court, and I'm hard-core, and then how I dress is masculine. If I put on something "girlie," I feel very uncomfortable. It feels like something I shouldn't be wearing. I wore a dress for my high school graduation and it sucked. My mom wanted me to wear a dress so bad. I forced a smile in a couple of photos for her, but I was the most absolute uncomfortable person.
Coming out to my parents helped. I gave myself little steps I would do, and each time I got good feedback-or I didn't get any feedback, which was good, because nobody really cared. Just little steps. Like in ninth grade, I decided I'm just going to dress how I want to dress. And I was like, "Man, this would've been so easy if I would've just did it earlier."
Morty Ain contributed reporting to this story.
This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2015. Subscribe today!