In Defense of Brittney Griner
It’s time to stop maligning the young freshman.
by Ben York / @bjyork
“Did you see that girl baller drop that other girl the other day?” My friend not-so-intelligently asked me. Obviously, he was referring to Baylor’s freshman phenom Brittney Griner punching a Texas Tech player on March 3, 2010.
I nodded, and began to state how disappointed I was that the whole incident happened. I spoke with a morose tone as if I had the right to critique Brittney Griner as a young woman. We conversed for a while regarding the fallout after the punch, how it reflected badly upon women’s basketball especially with such a supreme talent like Griner, and how there is no excuse for something like that in the game. Then, I had somewhat of an epiphany – I realized I have no room to judge or ridicule Griner.
And neither do you.
Was the physical act of punching another player wrong? Yes, and I’m certain many people would agree with that sentiment. Is the continual violent treatment of Griner by opposing teams wrong? Absolutely, and neither one justifies the other. But a human being can only take so much before they lose their cool. Typically, the younger you are the quicker this will happen; such is the case for Griner.
Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic undoubtedly knows what Griner is going through. He’s spoken many times about how close he is to going off on another player at any moment due to the beating he takes each game. Like Griner in women’s basketball, there aren’t many players bigger than Howard in the NBA. Hence, he becomes an obvious target for opposing defenses. In a game against the Indiana Pacers this past December, Howard and Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy expressed frustration after the game for the Pacers extreme physical play. “If you’re going to continue to hit him around the head and grab him around the neck, look I don’t care, those are flagrant fouls,” Van Gundy said after the game. “I don’t care who you are, you’re only going to take that for so long. It’s absurd what’s going on.”
Opposing teams have little choice than to be physical with Howard, and the same goes for Griner. They both are so dominant in their respective leagues that other teams simply have no answer. Thus, they become as physical as possible with Howard and Griner in hopes of getting them out of their game. But how much of this can a player take before they have to defend themselves?
After the punch, people around the world (including many members of the media) labeled Griner as having no self control and chiding her for her decision to escalate things. They looked down on her and questioned her resolve. Admittedly, I was guilty of doing the same thing initially. It wasn’t until I took a long look in the mirror and reflected upon the way I handled similar situations in my basketball playing days that I realized how hypocritical I was being.
Sometimes in life, there comes a time when enough is enough and defending yourself becomes necessary; it doesn’t matter where or when. Watching that Baylor vs. Texas Tech game, it’s no secret Griner was getting hammered in the paint all day. When Jordan Barncastle sort of threw Griner to the side with a hip-check, Griner snapped. Completely lost it. Couldn’t take it anymore. Granted, punching someone is clearly not the right way to go about making a point, and I felt badly for how blindsided Barncastle was.
But this has been brewing for a while now. This type of physicality against Griner has happened all her life. She’s always been dominant, always been bigger than everyone else. In fairness to her opposition, I suppose I would’ve done the same thing to combat Griner’s almost unstoppable game.
Still, I can’t help but wonder how I would’ve handled that situation. Would I have thrown a punch? I’ve played basketball at many levels and in competitive rec leagues for almost 10 years. For those who have also played at a high level, you know there are some people who are out there simply to hurt you; they just want to fight. I understand basketball is (and should be) somewhat of a physical sport, but every so often there is a point when a message needs to be sent; a time where you need to stand up for yourself. Again, resulting to physical and intentional violence is never the answer. I’ve gotten in people’s faces, had some grudge matches, and shoved my share of people; not because I’m a dirty player, but because it was time to let the other player know I’m not taking that stuff any longer. It was time to send a message.
The problem with Griner’s punch was that it was the wrong type of message. It came across as petty and unnecessary. Barncastle didn’t want to fight, she was trying to help her team win and bodying up Griner was one of the ways to do that. I wouldn’t have had any problem what-so-ever if Griner got into a shoving match or some words were exchanged. That’s part of basketball and part of competing at the highest of levels. It happens. In fact, those types of instances usually unite a team and provide a player with a sense of resiliency.
But before you label Griner as a dirty player, as uncontrollable, or as a recluse, take a look at yourself. What would you have done in those circumstances? Continue to get hit all day? At what point is enough truly enough?
Griner now has two ways to handle this situation; either come out of it a more dedicated and honorable player or continue to let the physical treatment get to her head. It is my sincere hope she does the former, since the physicality of play will only increase with the level she plays at.
Look, I don’t agree with what Griner did. Not at all. I’m just saying that before you turn your back on her; make sure you know for a fact that you would’ve handled the situation differently. Go to a rec league, play some ball, and try not to become so frustrated that a thought like that doesn’t cross your mind.
Until that happens, ease up on Brittney Griner.