Griner Practices What She Preaches

By Ben York,
Posted: April 30, 2013

The lobby inside the Doubletree Hotel in Midtown Manhattan’s East Side is muted on this otherwise bustling Wednesday afternoon in New York City.

Brittney Griner, drafted by the Phoenix Mercury with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft less than 48 hours ago, takes a well-deserved rest on a couch tucked away in a corner near the entrance.

I’m waiting patiently for the convoy of WNBA employees to meet us. We’re accompanying Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle-Donne (affectionately known as the “Three to See”) on their New York media tour and later to the New York Knicks’ final home game of the regular season.

With people around her non-stop, I stay in the hallway to give Griner some space and privacy.

About 15 feet away, a mother and daughter arrive and begin to check-in. The daughter, maybe 12-years-old, is in a wheelchair (I’d later find out from her mom that she is afflicted with cerebral palsy).

Brittney Griner, whom I assume was tired of sitting, stands up and nonchalantly moves toward the lobby while continuing to look at her phone.

The mom (I never got her name) immediately recognizes Griner and points her out to her daughter.

“That’s Brittney Griner,” she says. “She plays basketball in the women’s league.”

The daughter looks over to Griner and grins; she’s awe-struck. After all, it’s not every day you see a 6-8 professional athlete in the lobby of a random hotel.

“Excuse me,” the mom says softly and respectfully to Griner. “I don’t mean to intrude but would it be okay if my daughter got a picture with you?”

“Absolutely!” Griner replies.

When Griner looks up and sees the daughter in a wheelchair, she offers her what I can only describe as one of the warmest, most genuine smiles I’ve ever seen. Griner walks over to the daughter, kneels down and shakes her hand while looking her directly in the eye.

“Nice to meet you,” Griner says. “Is this your first time in New York?”

The daughter nods her head, still beaming.

For Griner, there is no wheelchair. No height difference. No cerebral palsy. No labels.

Just two humans interacting on the sincerest of levels.

After the picture is taken, Griner shakes the mother’s hand, gives the daughter a hug, thanks them both and wishes them a nice stay in New York.

It’s one of the simplest, most profound examples of human decency I’ve ever seen.

* * *

Tolerance doesn’t discriminate, and neither does Brittney Griner.

As someone who had a friend with cerebral palsy growing up, I’ve seen firsthand how terribly ignorant and downright mean people can be to those who are deemed “different.”

The incessant teasing is nothing short of callous and inhumane.

Brittney Griner understands the feelings associated with discrimination better than most. It’s been well documented how she was relentlessly teased and made fun of growing up – not for having cerebral palsy, but for her sexuality and appearance.

Though the reasons are different, the horrible feeling one gets when it happens remains the same.

Griner has already made an astute effort to use her voice and notoriety as a professional athlete to encourage and inspire the LGBT community. Still, the overriding theme of her message is one of tolerance and acceptance for everyone – regardless of whether you’re gay, straight, have cerebral palsy, etc.

As evidenced by her chance meeting with a mother and daughter in the lobby of a New York hotel, Brittney Griner is the classic personification of equality. She didn’t know I was there observing the interaction. No other media was around.

Griner treated the daughter with compassion because it was the right thing to do – no different than any other person she was introduced to.

Griner, simply put, walks the walk.