RIO DE JANEIRO: Elena Delle Donne wants to carry on some traditions, like US women winning Olympic basketball gold, while trying to change others, like learning an athlete is gay being noteworthy.
Delle Donne, a 26-year-old guard-forward for the Americans and last season’s Women’s NBA Most Valuable Player, came out as gay Wednesday in the new issue of Vogue magazine.
“It isn’t a big story. One day it won’t be a story at all,” she said.
“My face doesn’t change because I told you I’m going to marry a woman.
“Nor does it affect my image. If it affected a brand then I don’t want to be part of that brand anyway.”
She has been engaged to Amanda Clifton since June 2 and while generally quiet about her personal life was glad to have the story out there as she prepares for her first Olympics with the US dynasty.
“They were able to come in and see what a key role she plays in my life,” Delle Donne said. “We were being honest and open. I’m definitely fine with it.
“‘Oh my god she had a coming out story.’ What’s awesome is it’s kind of normal. It doesn’t need to be a story anymore.
“That’s what is so great about this situation. One day these things won’t exist and we won’t have to talk about it. If you push it under the rug, they will stay forever. The world is changing for sure.”
She doesn’t want too much change on the court, though. The US women are on a 41-game Olympic win streak with five gold consecutive medals and seven of the past eight. She wants to lengthen that run.
“We have the wherewithal and the skill to get it done. It’s about putting it out there every single time,” Delle Donne said.
“The history is special. These women have inspired us to where we are. They have made sacrifices that were important to us.”
The other WNBA newcomer to the US team is 25-year-old center Brittney Griner, who has been openly gay since her earliest days in the league.
“I’m a lesbian. With my spotlight, I’m able to show the right way of going about things in life,” she said.
She also knows coming out, as Delle Donne did, is different for everyone.
“It’s tough coming out. It’s something you have to do in your own time,” Griner said. “It’s a process. I was younger, nervous, scared they wouldn’t accept me, my friends, my parents. You feel isolated and it’s a horrible feeling. That’s the hardest part, the isolation.”
A target on our back
Now she is united with friends around a common goal. And when some non-players resisted wishing her luck because of the US legacy of success, Griner made it clear nothing is taken for granted.
“It’s not that easy. Tell us ‘Good luck.’ We all walk around with a target on our back. These other teams aren’t going to roll over and take it,” Griner said.
“I don’t want to let down the ones who came before.”
Delle Donne knows exactly how that feels.
“The biggest thing is to be ourselves and have the veterans help us along, physically and mentally,” she said. “It’s something I want to carry on for the next generation.”
So Delle Donne has allowed hereself to imagine what winning a gold medal would be like.
“It would be emotional. I would definitely have chills. A dream come true,” she said. “I have wanted this all my life. To get a gold medal, it would just top it all off.”