Nike Sponsors Its First Openly Gay Pro Athlete

As corporate America continues to warm to the LGBTQ community, advertisers have begun to recruit new types of faces as role models. Following that cue, Nike is now sponsoring its first openly gay professional athlete: new WNBA player Brittney Griner.

But it’s not just Griner’s sexuality that makes the endorsement excitingly progressive: Griner has also been granted free reign when it comes to her gender expression. Rather than wearing womenswear like Nike’s other female athletes, Griner will don apparel designed for men like Nike SB, the company’s skateboarding brand.

“It’s safe to say we jumped at the opportunity to work with her because she breaks the mold,” said Brian Strong, a Nike spokesperson, told ESPN Magazine. The same publication ran a fantastic profile on Griner and her journey over the years.

Although the financial figure of the deal comes to under $15,000 (falling well short of the million dollar endorsements of some of the big-name NBA superstars), Griner, who admits she often shops in the men’s department at stores, is happy to have the opportunity to put her atypical personal style on display. “It’s what I feel comfortable in, it’s my dress identity.”

Griner is currently one of the hottest names in women’s basketball, making headlines after scoring a record two slam dunks in her very first WNBA game. She also earned attention when (as Care2 reported) NBA bigwigs stirred speculation that she would be drafted to play professionally with the men instead. In the short couple of months between college and starting in the WNBA, Griner has been busy making her true identity known: “I am a strong, black, lesbian woman,” she said. “Every single time I say it, I feel so much better.”

Technically, Griner first came out her freshman year of high school, but found herself more or less closeted again when she arrived at Baylor University. In her first weeks at school, college personnel instructed her to delete Tweets that openly made reference to an ex-girlfriend.

While Griner never pretended to be someone she was not, due to the ongoing pressure, she wasn’t explicit about her identity either. “It was a recruiting thing,” Griner said. “The coaches thought if it seemed like they condoned [homosexuality], people wouldn’t let their kids play for Baylor.”

Unlike Baylor, the WNBA seems happier to have a controversial figure like Griner. Amber Cox, the President of the Phoenix Mercury (Griner’s team) said, “We want role models, but we need lightning rods to balance things out. In that sense, Brittney has taken us to the next level. If someone is invoking emotion in people they care. And apathy has been our biggest enemy.”

Indeed, since making her sexuality public, Griner admits she has faced some criticism. Some have tweeted her things like “Ur a man” and “What are you? #man? #ape?”, but Griner takes it in stride. “Reading what people say makes me want to be me even more,” she said.

And now Nike (which we should acknowledge is far from a great company) will give Griner a chance to be herself in a heightened public spotlight, while helping to redefine the idea of what types of people are considered marketable.


Photo Credit: Sphilbrick


Jim Pomeroy
James Pomeroy4 years ago

As a basketball fan I have followed Brittney's career since college. Though I am a U Con fan, I always rooted for her (when not playing U Con). I am impressed with her as a person and as an athlete. She will represent herself and the brand well.

It is sad that she was forced back into the closet in college. I am glad to see she is free to be herself once-more.


Winn Adams
Winn Adams5 years ago

Good. What in the hell took them this long?!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago


Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper5 years ago

about time

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

I agree with Scot R. What is a GOOD thing is that Nike didn't back off because of her sexual status.

Dale O.

Interesting article and comments here.

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F5 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Beth M.
Beth M5 years ago

Thank you Nike!

Scot Roberts
Scot Roberts5 years ago

Spencer....and everyone else who has posted similar comments.....

Nike didn't sponsor Brittney Griner because she was gay. I appreciate your attitude or outlook, and I share it, but the sponsorship has nothing, zip, zilch, nada, to do with the fact that she's gay. They didn't do it for the publicity of sponsoring a gay athlete.....they did it because she's tops in her field. A winner, a role model for younger women.

The only thing that makes this newsworthy is that she's an openly gay athlete and sponsoring her is a bit of a risk in this society which isn't quite the accepting society that we'd like it to be. It's getting better.....but we're not there yet. Remember Chik-Fil-A? Target? etc. The list goes on of companies who have taken the risk of supporting or not supporting equal rights for gays. Either way, in this contemptuous society, there always seems to be a price to pay from either side.

Spencer Y.
Spencer Young5 years ago

I enjoy sports for the sport. not the play of a straight person compared to the play of a gay person when i watch or play sports the last thing i think about is was that person gay? If a person becomes sponsored it shouldn't be because he/she are or aren't gay, it should be for their play