Brittney Griner “owns the middle”

Great, in-depth story on Brittney Griner’s life, coming out, and what it means to her new employer, the WNBA.

The most interesting part to me is this:

Over the past 16 years, the WNBA has tried, ever so gently, to create space for itself in the saturated sports world. Marketing campaigns have cherry-picked players who best seem to represent traditional feminine ideals, but in trying to court mainstream fans, the league has struggled to become culturally relevant in its own niche.

Griner happily embraces what the WNBA has long shied away from: controversy. “It’s always been, ‘Oh, it’s just so nice the girls can play,'” says Mercury president Amber Cox. “We want role models, but we need lightning rods to balance things out. In that sense, Brittney has taken us to the next level. If someone is invoking emotion in people, they care. And apathy has been our biggest enemy.”

Griner’s arrival coincides with intriguing new research about WNBA fans. League executives admit that their marketing efforts have been schizophrenic at times as they’ve searched for a common thread among their eclectic audience. Now the research shows a theme: People who support the WNBA have progressive views on gender. “They share the ultimate goal of living in a world where gender equality exists in all its forms,” says league president Laurel Richie.

The WNBA has been building toward the emergence of a player who can embody this philosophy, and now here she is with her size 17 sneakers and 88-inch wingspan. “This feels like a magical moment,” Richie says. “I think years from now, we’ll look back on 2013 as the pivotal year for this league.”

I completely agree with the “needing to embrace controversy” part.

Fans of the league have puzzled for years over the ways the WNBA has tried to market themselves. Maybe they finally have a game plan.