Painful Past Inspires Olympic Hopeful Brittney Griner To Help Others
Brittney Griner ran up and down the floor at the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center with a sense of freedom. Gone are the bullies that plagued her childhood. Gone are the suicidal thoughts that twice nearly caused her to end her life.
Griner, a 6-foot-8 center, is finally free of the mental anguish that was inflicted on her by her peers years ago. There is a sense of happiness as her quest to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team for the first time reached its peak during a three-day training camp that concluded Tuesday.
Griner smiles. She laughs. She talks freely about her troubled past. And she wears a constant reminder of just how far she has come in life on the inside of her right forearm, a green skeleton tattoo she had done while she was at home in Phoenix at Christmastime.
“That’s why I love talking about it,” Griner said. “I don’t shy away from talking about it. I’ll tell people why when they ask, `Why did you even get this tattoo?’ And I’ll tell them. And that’s why I like talking to kids. When they write me I try to write back to them letting them know like, `You can make it through it.’ Look at me today. I would’ve never in a million years thought I’d be here today.”
Griner, 25, said she started being bullied in fifth or sixth grade, chastised for her height, her voice, her appearance. She was called a man, shunned by many and felt like an outcast.
The abuse reached a breaking point when Griner was in seventh grade. Slitting her wrists suddenly became a consideration.
“I just had enough,” Griner said. “It was just a bad time, and I wouldn’t talk to anybody about it either. I didn’t talk to my parents. I didn’t talk to my siblings. I didn’t have a lot of friends back then. I had a couple, but I didn’t talk to them about it either. I used to write, but I would always destroy my writing. I would either burn it or I would just rip it up and throw it away so nobody could see it, because I didn’t want anybody to read what I was writing.”
Entering her feelings in a diary was an avenue of healing for Griner. It helped her shed her suicidal thoughts and push forward with her life.
“There was a lot of anger,” said Griner, who also contemplated jumping off of a building during her All-American career at Baylor. “I used to get in trouble because I would act out in school, but my parents didn’t know why. They just thought I was being bad. So I would get in trouble. I would act out. All the wrong ways of doing it. So that’s why I share things that I did that were wrong.”
Writing proved to be a strong elixir for Griner. So, too, was athletics. She played soccer and volleyball in seventh and eighth grade before beginning her basketball career in ninth grade.
Griner would become a two-time National Player of the Year and a national champion at Baylor, setting NCAA Division I career records with 748 blocks and 18 dunks. The Phoenix Mercury drafted her No. 1 overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft, and her career has continued to soar as she was named to the All-WNBA First Team in 2014 and is the league’s reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Through her affiliation with USA Basketball, Griner earned All-Star Five honors at the 2014 FIBA World Championship after averaging 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and a team-high 2.0 blocks to help the U.S. win the gold medal. She also averaged 12.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in three games during the European Tour with the USA National Team last fall.
“Just seeing her now I’m excited to see where she can continue to go,” U.S. Olympic gold medalist Maya Moore said. “She’s gotten to this point, which is an awesome feat to be able to be one of the best players in the world at her position. I do know that she’s going to be an integral part of the future of our sport. And she wants to learn. She wants to grow. But she definitely is one that’s got a story. Who knows what could’ve happened looking at the beginning, and look at her now. So I want to continue to see the rest of that comeback story go well.”
Not only has Griner evolved into one of the world’s top basketball players, it is with great pride that she has become an advocate for anti-bullying, She is in the process of establishing the BG:BU (Be You) application.
One of every six students in the country is victimized by bullying. This app soon will provide them with an opportunity to reach out for help and discuss their situation in a confidential forum.
“We all have causes that come dear to our heart,” USA National Team veteran Tamika Catchings said. “Not only was she bullied, I was bullied growing up, and that’s why sports is such a big thing. Because for both of us, it was an outlet of being able to get away from people that make fun of her all the time. People made fun of me all the time because of my hearing disability and stuff like that. But when you play basketball it’s a universal game and nothing has to be said. The only way you can talk is through the way you play. I think it’s great that using her stardom she’s able to go out and just talk to people about being different, and being bullied and taking a strong stance on what she believes in. She’s had to go through it, and it’s not cool. It’s not something that you want to be on that end of. So it’s really important for her to take pride in that.”
Griner had long wanted to do something to help others in need. The concept of the BG:BU app arose in talking with her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, once she had joined the professional ranks with the Mercury.
“It hits close to home, so it’s something I just love doing,” said Griner, who also volunteers at Steve Francis’ Holiday Bowling and Christmas Party for underprivileged children. “Just helping out kids that are being bullied every day from being a kid that was bullied. Nothing is better than that, honestly.”
Griner said that people have reached out to her on social media. They have approached her at games and spent time talking with her about being bullied.
The feedback that Griner has received provides proof that she is indeed making an impact.
“We’ve got a really close relationship, and I’ve told her life is about stuff that happens to you,” USA Basketball and Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi said. “It’s the way that you react to it that’s going to define you as a person. She is a special person. And sometimes she doesn’t know that. Sometimes she doesn’t realize how much of an impact she has on culture, on basketball. And I think when she sees that a little bit, it gets her excited.”
Griner will find out in a few months whether or not she will represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August. She said having the opportunity to wear the `USA’ uniform would mean everything to her.
With what she has endured to reach this point in her life, Griner is proof that through perseverance one can overcome adversity and prosper in life.
“It’s strange talking about it I guess, a little bit, just because where my mind is now and where I’m at today. I’m so self-confident,” Griner said. “It was really challenging. But I guess I’m a fighter. There’s a lot of kids that don’t make it through it. They can go down the wrong path. Honestly, I just kept fighting with it. I was really angry a lot. But I kind of just fought through it. When I started playing ball it kind of helped me just get through it all.”