FINALIST: BRITTNEY GRINER
To feminists and female sports fans, ensuring the health of women's sports is crucial. While male athletes can concentrate on being athletes, women too often are held to different standards: You have to look like a Victoria's Secret model, even if you can dunk. You can't be butchy, ever, because it gives away the secret that lesbians play sports. You can't be tough, either, so turn down that grunting, Williams sisters.
Enter Brittney Griner, the no-nonsense center on the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA's number one draft pick. Not only was Griner unparalleled in college basketball, but she ended her career at Baylor by coming out in several interviews in April. "Don't hide who you really are," she told others in sports.
Griner is the lesbian athlete that women's sports needs — unabashedly comfortable with herself, charming, media-beloved, and can dunk like it's nobody's business. Her charm has gotten her an endorsement with Nike, the pinnacle of deals that every athlete on this planet craves. Griner may not have won Rookie of the Year — probably in part to a knee injury that curbed her season a bit — but she was unanimously voted onto the 2013 All-Rookie Team. The buzz around Griner, and her class of outstanding rookies, have brought excitement back into the league.
Most importantly, though, Griner should be considered the answer to the nagging question, Can a gay athlete come out, be accepted on a team, play magnificently, and still earn endorsements? Some seem to think that question only concerns male athletes like NBA veteran Jason Collins or Major League Soccer's Robbie Rogers, who both came out earlier this year. But Griner sets the bar for everyone in professional sports by being herself from the outset, no matter if it means challenging traditional gender roles and mores that some still find acceptable.
— Michelle Garcia