Brittney Griner Is Not a Punch Line

I saw the future of women’s basketball Saturday, and she’s the most athletic woman player ever at such a considerable height (6-8). Haven’t heard of Baylor University’s fabulous fresh(wo)man Brittney Griner yet?  I bet you did, but only because she hauled off and punched someone this season.

That’s Brittney throwing a roundhouse at Texas Tech’s Jordan Barncastle, breaking her nose. Of course the video went viral and renewed handwringing about incidents of violence in women’s sports–which always seems to put the whole notion of women’s athleticism in question and in jeopardy.

I tried before at, after one woman soccer player pulled down another by her ponytail, to put this into historical perspective. But now I just say: Get over it!

In men’s sports, violence is only complained about when someone lands in the hospital. Otherwise, it’s part of the game. I played competitive basketball myself, and when your adrenalin gets pumping your aggression rises as well. Normally you can get out that energy just by playing, but occasionally someone makes you so mad that you want to retaliate. I’m not saying that it’s the right thing to do, because it’s both dangerous and bad sportsmanship–but it happens.

Griner didn’t randomly punch Barncastle; her opponent had just nearly dislocated Griner’s shoulder while throwing her to the ground. Griner blew. And imagine: As a 6-8 player who towers above most of her opponents, she’s guarded very roughly, often by two or three players at a time. Not only does she have to develop a thick skin physically, but psychologically as well.’s Mechelle Voepel also pointed out that it’s not just physical abuse faced by the tallest players in women’s basketball:

The 6-8 Anne Donovan–former Olympic standout and longtime coach–talks of how, even to this day, people will go up to her and say stupid and hurtful things. … Such as the woman who went up to Donovan a few years back and said, “Wow, you’re the biggest thing I’ve ever seen!” To which Donovan said, “I’m not a ‘thing,’ and you’re old enough to know better than to say something like that.”

Most players learn to retaliate in subtler ways than Griner did. A former UCLA women’s basketball player once explained to me how she used a trick learned from her older brother: If an opponent was getting too physical with her, she’d give her a well-placed elbow to the sternum. That hurts, I can tell you from basketball experience.

Jere Longman of The New York Times covered the Griner incident with a mix of concern about women adopting the worst of men’s sports (“more pressure to win”) and the inherent sexism of focusing on this with a gender lens at all. Kudos to interviewee Michael Messner, a professor of sociology and gender studies at USC, who recognized this:

Messner cautioned that these incidents could be less reflective of a disturbing pattern than an echoing of misbehavior that is blown out of proportion, given that it is reported against a backdrop of “almost no women’s coverage at all.”

At least TV covers the NCAA championships. And if you watched the magnificent game Saturday in the NCAA regionals between Baylor and Tennessee, you forgot the Griner punch entirely. Instead, you could only marvel at the young woman’s performance–27 points, 10 blocked shots–and that of her team, which upset the top-ranked Lady Vols. Tonite in Memphis they will play Duke at  7 p.m. EST (see it on ESPN) for a right to go to the Final Four next weekend at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

If you have a chance to watch Griner tonight, don’t expect violence–this is not a men’s professional hockey game, where flying fists are part of the show. Expect a great contest, though, and perhaps even a Griner dunk:

Griner dunking twice in a high school game.

UPDATE: Baylor’s going to the Final Four! After trailing Duke for nearly the entire game, they pulled ahead with less than a minute to go to win 51-48.  Griner had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 9 blocked shots (she’s now set a record for most blocks in an NCAA championship, with still at least one game left to play).

Photo by Glenn Nelson from


  1. Bill Localio says:

    Brittney Griner wouldn’t be there without Title 9 and, when she started playing basketball in 9th grade, she could look at players like Diana Taurasi or Chamique Holdsclaw for role models. They were certainly inspired by Lisa Leslie. Lisa wouldn’t have been there without Althea Gibson. There’s some history here.
    The best thing about UConn’s phenomenal winning streak is that announcers and followers of men’s basketball are taking notice and making positive comments. Tina Charles, who will certainly be the top pick in the WNBA draft this spring, has a 3.7 gpa and has been mentioned as a possible Rhodes Scholar. Has the #1 pick in the NBA draft EVER had a 3.7 gpa?
    And the athletes notice. Bill Russell has recently empathized with Brittney Griner and LeBron James has praised Tina Charles on TV. Athletes know superb talent when they see it, regardless of gender.

  2. As Jackson Katz spelled out in Tough Guise, violence has been gendered male. Violence among men, including male sports, is unsurprising and expected as a result. Violence among women, whether that violence is directed at children, among gang members or in sports, is in direct opposition to what has been gendered “feminine.”

  3. I really appreciate this article. I’m not promoting violence in sports either, but it does happen when the adrenaline is high, for women and men. Don’t sensationalize it.

  4. We couldn’t agree with Kort more as we wish, instead, for some serious respect for the overwhelming cooperation that the women players are demonstrating
    across race and class and ability on and off the NCAA basketball
    court. Where else except in women’s sports do we get to see women of
    every shape and size working so closely together? How often do we get
    to watch women trust their bodies, revel in their physicality, night
    after night?

  5. I want to invite all of the readers of Ms to tune in tomorrow night (Tuesday, Dec. 21) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 to see the UConn women go for the record-breaking win against Florida State. The John Wooden/UCLA record of 88 wins could very well fall, making the UConn women the sole owners of the most consecutive collegiate hoops wins. Please join us to watch history in the making.

    Keri Potts, ESPN

  6. If a white girl had punched a black girl like that, you’d never hear the end of it from Sharpton and Jackson, and Obama would have said she could be his daughter.

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