Sports and fashion don't have many fans in common, but they have a lot of other similarities. Each is a multibillion dollar global commercial mass entertainment industry fixated on the human body. When it comes to gender expression, they are counterparts: mainstream fashion reinforces traditional ideas about femininity (women are pleasant and upbeat, preoccupied with perfecting their appearance, sexually available) in the same way that pro sports culture rigidly conforms to certain masculine norms associated with aggression, competitiveness — even (off-court) promiscuity. (Of course there are niche segments of both industries that challenge the dominant models, but I'm talking about the stuff that's most visible, like the annual Victoria's Secret fashion show or the Superbowl.)
As a prominent global clothing retailer that sets the standard for athletic wear, Nike is at the nexus of both industries and it's just inked an unusual endorsement deal with WNBA player Brittney Griner.
The 22-year-old basketball player was just signed to Pheonix Mercury, after being selected as the #1 overall 2013 WNBA Draft pick. She's 6'8", on the cover of this month's ESPN Taboo Issue and the first openly gay athlete to sign an endorsement deal with Nike. And there's more: Griner, who wears men's clothing in her personal life, will model Nike apparel that's branded as menswear, possibly as a move to align itself with a new wave of androgyny that's becoming increasingly more common in the sports world.
From her ESPN profile:
"Androgynous models are coveted in high-end fashion, but the trend toward gender-neutral clothing has only just begun to reach the sports world, with NBA stars Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade blurring the lines in their tight jeans and fitted sweaters. No sports apparel company has taken it a step further and expressly targeted the gender-fluid crowd — and whether Nike is willing to ride the edge with Griner remains to be seen. 'We can't get into specifics,' says Nike spokesman Brian Strong, 'but it's safe to say we jumped at the opportunity to work with her because she breaks the mold.'"
This video, where Griner talks about struggling with her sexual identity as an athlete and bullying she faced as a kid, is worth watching: