By Glennisha Morgan
Standing at 6 foot 8, hailing from Houston, Texas, Brittney Griner has a story to tell. The 2013 number one WNBA draft pick has penned a memoir, In My Skin—released today by HarperCollins—which details her life on and off the basketball court. After returning from China and speaking on panels at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference and Festival (SXSW), Griner took some time out to chat with ELIXHER about her new book, representing for Black girls and women, truth-telling and more.
The out and proud Baylor University graduate has many accolades, giving her plenty to talk about. She was the first NCAA basketball player to ever score 2,000 points and block 500 shots. Dunking twice in one game, the Mercury Phoenix center broke her favorite player’s (Candace Parker) career total of dunks during her debut WNBA game against the Chicago Sky last May. Griner has an endorsement deal with Nike, is a 2013 BET Award nominee, 2013 WNBA All-Star, 2012 NCAA champion, 2012 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and a McDonald’s 2009 All-American player (just to name a few of her honors).
Not only does Griner shine on the court, she soars off the court as well. The new author was crowned grand marshal of the 2014 Phoenix Pride Parade. During the 24th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco, she encouraged youth to “come out” and be comfortable in their own skin. The youth advocate has even tapped into technology and is currently creating a mobile app for children who have been bullied. The app will serve as a supportive place for youth to communicate what they’re going through and find resources.
ELIXHER: Congrats! You wrote a book, In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court. How did you find the time?
BRITTNEY: It wasn’t too hard. I did it while I was in Phoenix before I left for China. I had enough time to do it and it was something that I really wanted to do. When you want to do something, you’ll definitely find the time.
ELIXHER: You co-wrote the book with ESPN Magazine’s former editor, Sue Hovey. How did you two connect?
BRITTNEY: I met Sue through my agent, Lindsay, and we really connected. She understood me.
ELIXHER: You’re still at the beginning of your career. Why put out a memoir now?
BRITTNEY: Many people wait until after their career is over or coming to an end. I wanted to do it at the beginning of my career. I didn’t want to wait that long for people to hear my story. I want kids to have somebody they can look up to and relate to because when I was growing up I didn’t have anyone to look up to. It’s happening right now, everyday; struggling with coming out, just making it in sports with being openly gay.
ELIXHER: Since you’ve came out. How have things changed for you professionally?
BRITTNEY: It hasn’t really changed too much, but I get more love on social media. On Twitter and on Instagram I get more kids reaching out to me, telling me what they’re going through and asking me for advice, which I love. I wanted that to happen because I want to help. I don’t want everyone to go through what I went through, being alone.
ELIXHER: Without giving too much away, what can we find in your book?
BRITTNEY: Stuff about growing up, having to be quiet and secretive through my childhood. I talk about high school, my time at Baylor, going into my rookie season as a pro and the whole coming out experience. It’s everything that I went through and how I felt.
ELIXHER: Images of Black women in media are important, especially for little Black girls. You’re someone who is non-conforming and breaking the mold in so many different ways. How does it feel to be a reflection and representation for a population of Black girls and women who are usually voiceless?
BRITTNEY: It definitely feels great to break the mold. I’m definitely not the silent one and one to conform. If I can be an example and show younger African American women and little girls that we have a voice, that’s amazing to me.
ELIXHER: Some people feel like being a representation is a lot of pressure. What is it like for you?
BRITTNEY: No. I don’t feel any pressure at all. I’m doing something that I love and I want to do. It’s truly no pressure, honestly. I feel comfortable doing it. If I felt pressured then I would have waited a little bit longer. I feel good.
ELIXHER: What exactly got you to a point to be comfortable in your own skin?
BRITTNEY: Just having to be silent for so long and not being able to be who I am. Everything that I’ve went through, from being bullied, it definitely made me love myself. It molded me into the strong person I am now. You can tell me anything, but I know who I am. I didn’t let it break me down.
ELIXHER: You just recently returned from playing overseas in China. You posted [a few pictures] with your teammates on Instagram and you seem to be the only Black woman playing on your team. What was that experience like?
BRITTNEY: I was definitely the only African American on that team. At first it was hard. It was definitely an experience. It took a while for the team to warm up to me, but after they did it eased up. We came up with a way to communicate. Everywhere I went, people stared. They all wanted to touch my hair, which felt strange. I guess they don’t see dreads in China too often. [Laughs.] They would ask me if it was my hair and I would tell them, “Yes. I grew it.”
ELIXHER: Last May, in your piece for the New York Times, you said you’re a part of a mission to help all live in truth. How important is truth-telling to you?
BRITTNEY: Being true, telling the truth and being up front helps so much more than holding back. In my book, I tell the truth. I don’t hold back. I don’t sugarcoat it. When you do that, your message will get tarnished. I don’t want that to happen with me. Actually, when I did it, I felt so much better. It was like a weight off of my shoulders.
ELIXHER: Your accolades and performance on the court is astonishing. What keeps you motivated and grounded?
BRITTNEY: The youth keeps me grounded and keeps me going. I don’t think any award can bring the joy of when I help somebody and they send me a message back telling me how much that I’m an inspiration to them and how much they look up to me. That’s what matters to me because they’re the future. The awards will always be here when we’re gone and they get old and dusty, but the kids are what’s important to me.
ELIXHER: The Mercury is gearing up for the upcoming season in May. Your first game is against Seattle. So what can we expect to see on the court from you and your teammates?
BRITTNEY: We’re looking forward to playing against Seattle because they got us every time this past season. Last season, I opened up my first game with two dunks. So hopefully some more dunks. It’s just an exciting time because I definitely worked hard this year in China to get better. It’s going to be a good year for the Phoenix Mercury. I encourage everyone to tune in and come out to the games.
ELIXHER: I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of seeing you dunk. How did that feel to break a record during your debut game?
BRITTNEY: I was hype the whole day. After I dunked two times, you couldn’t calm me down. It felt really good because I was definitely nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t want to over do it. It was the perfect way to start out my rookie season. That was amazing. So we’re going to try to recreate that.
Griner has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for her anti-bullying mobile app. To support the cause, click here.
Glennisha Morgan serves as ELIXHER’s Entertainment Editor. She is the founder of The Fembassy (a blog that is solely dedicated to women MCs), a multimedia journalist, photographer and filmmaker. During her career she has interviewed people like Russell Simmons, La La Anthony, MC Lyte, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Laverne Cox, and Marsha Ambrosius. In 2010, Glennisha was featured in BET’s first original music documentary, ‘My Mic Sounds Nice.’