For several years, the most dominant player in women’s college basketball has been Baylor’s Brittney Griner, she of the six-foot-eight-inch frame. Over the course of her career, Griner has scored more than 3,200 points and blocked nearly 750 shots. Last year she led Baylor to an undefeated season and the NCAA championship.
BL: You write that Brittney Griner’s best seems to bring out the worst in other people. Give us some sense of the comments about Brittney Griner that have led you to that conclusion.
KF: I think there’s always been a bit of a disconnect with how the media covered her, which is just focusing on her basketball, and the narrative that I’ve heard around her in barrooms and when I check in on message boards and of course Twitter. It seems the narrative in those spaces was much more focused on her gender and questioning if she should be playing on the men’s side of the game and about her abilities.
BL: Critics of women’s basketball have complained that women just aren’t as athletic as men, hence the game isn’t as interesting, and then Brittney Griner comes along and some critics say she’s too athletic to be a woman. What accounts for that disconnect?
KF: “Fans” have been saying that they’ll pay attention to women’s sports when women can dunk. And now here we have Brittney Griner, and she can dunk, and yet it doesn’t seem to be the kind of dunking that people want to see.
BL: What can that possibly mean? “Not the right kind of dunking”? I don’t get it.
KF: I think what, you know, average Joe fan wants to see is athleticism in a female that rivals the NBA, and yet almost in a Playboy model body, which we know is just biologically impossible.
BL: The criticism that you mention notwithstanding, it’s also true that the women’s game is gaining in popularity and that more women’s college teams than ever before — Baylor, obviously, included — fill their buildings when they play. Surely all those fans haven’t come to scoff.
KF: There’s a large segment of fans that have embraced and celebrated Brittney Griner. It just so happens there’s a lot of very vocal fans as well who have used her as an opportunity to point out what they see as the flaws in the women’s game. But, you know, TV ratings are up, and more and more teams are able to sell tickets, and we’ve come a long way in women’s sports, there’s no doubt about that.
BL: You write that Baylor coach Kim Mulkey has kept Brittney Griner in a “cocoon.” How well has Griner handled the criticism about which you have written?
KF: She’s so comfortable with who she is, and by that I mean how she presents herself, how she acts. She’s fine with herself ’cause I think we do see a lot of tall women, sometimes a lot of female athletes, who are trying very hard to fit back into the stereotype of what it means to be feminine, and Brittney Griner doesn’t do that. She seems very comfortable with herself, which is gonna help her change minds as she goes forward.
BL: At most we have two more weeks to watch Griner as a college athlete. When she plays in the WNBA, and she’s likely to be the league’s No. 1 pick, will she get as much attention as she has gotten playing at Baylor?
KF: I don’t think so. I think the NCAA spotlight for women’s basketball is the brightest for these athletes. Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, they’re no more popular now than they were in college, which is a very different story than obviously our NBA players and our NFL players.