Sports coaches love military allegories, so here’s one for legendary LSU basketball coach Kim Mulkey: Leave no one behind. But that’s exactly what the three-time national champion did to Brittney Griner, a player who led Mulkey to a national title when the coach was at Baylor. The superstar led Mulkey’s Baylor team to a 40-0 regular season and championship in 2012.
For those living under a particularly thick chunk of rock, Griner is in hell: He is serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian prison for the “crime” of allegedly having marijuana vape cartridges in his carry-on at the airport. (Surely Griner has bigger problems, but, suffice it to say, his prison cell isn’t equipped for someone with a six-foot-nine-inch frame.) Griner’s plight is made even more tense by the fact that he has become a pawn. in the hotter cold war between Russia and the United States.
The basketball world has increasingly expressed its support for Griner in hopes of generating the kind of international outcry that could drive her home. But Mulkey has been silent. Griner is the most respected star in the history of the Mulkey program and she was the number one pick in the WNBA draft in 2013. No female basketball player has been more associated with Baylor. And yet we hear Mulkey crickets.
Finally, on media day, Cory Diaz of the football team asked the 60-year-old coach daily advertiser commenting that the world had yet to hear his feelings about Griner’s incarceration, and Mulkey quickly answered the question saying, “And you won’t,” before immediately searching the scrum for another question.
Granted, Griner and Mulkey’s relationship hasn’t been easy. This clash of heads, at least publicly, began in 2013 when Griner, who was addressing the WNBA, who was open and casual about being part of the LGBTQ community, in a way that created space for other closed LGBTQ athletes, said: Sports Illustrated that Mulkey told him that while playing at Baylor, he would have to keep his sexuality a secret.
Two of Mulkey’s former Baylor players took to social media to harshly criticize their former coach. Queen Egbo, a player on the team’s starting squad in 2019, said, “A player who built Baylor, 2 national titles and a 40-0 record. However, his former coach refuses to say anything or simply shows some kind of support. Keep that in mind when he chooses schools.”
Another player, free agent guard and former WNBA second-round pick Chloe Jackson, wrote, “And I’ll say it again. SILENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES, smh.”
Baylor’s sophomore coach Nicki Collen couldn’t have distinguished herself more from Mulkey, praising Griner as the person who made Baylor “a household name” and speaking of a uniform retirement either in absentia or when Griner returns to House. she then he said, “Those who have been around me know that I get quite emotional. I think BG, first of all, is human first. I think it’s a human rights problem. No one is saying that she didn’t make a mistake. No one of us is perfect. But I guess I’d like to know if I did something and got stuck in a foreign country, what it was and what it wasn’t. I think we all know that 10 years is a long time. I see her as a mother, as a sister, as a wife, as a daughter, as an incredible basketball ambassador.”
Mulkey’s lack of reaction to Griner may have much more to do with his politics than any personal resentment toward Griner. Mulkey is a proud member of the The triumphant right. She has shown contempt for the victims of sexual assault on her former Baylor campus and callous contempt for young people crushed under the weight of the many scandals inflicted on the university during the tenure of disgraced school president Kenneth Starr. and recently deceased. She now reflects this broader tendency on the right to say that Griner should not be a concern or seen as a political prisoner because, as they accept at face value, she was “smuggling drugs.” This position is riddled with racism, sexism, and homophobia. (If Jack Nicklaus were jailed, does anyone doubt the right wing would be calling for World War III?) It’s also just blatant disregard for Griner, her family’s pain, and her humanity. Even with Mulkey’s politics, it’s shocking that she shrugged her shoulders and didn’t make even a gesture of solidarity. Her inability to do even that must be roundly condemned. Or like Stephanie Holland declared in The root“Literally anything would have been better than what [Mulkey said]. Seriously, who wants their kids to play for this person?