Sports Take: Why I think Baylor, Mulkey lack support for Brittney Griner

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner stands behind bars in a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

Two weeks ago, former Baylor women’s basketball star Brittney Griner received a nine-and-a-half-year sentence from a Russian court on drug smuggling and possession charges. The news broke six months after Griner’s initial arrest at a Moscow airport, as she was detained for that entire time.

Griner has been in Russian custody for almost 200 days, with no end in sight. In those six months, there has been no word from her former Lady Bears head coach Kim Mulkey, along with minimal public support from Baylor University as a whole. The private Baptist school has received backlash for the lack of awareness, but here’s why it can’t give out tons of support for its former dominant athlete.

From Baylor’s POV

There’s a lot that goes into something like this, and it’s not as easy as one-plus-one (although I wish it was). It’s no secret that Griner’s homosexual orientation plays a major role in any hesitation on the university’s end, but there’s another big part to this: drugs. Baylor still identifies as a private Christian university with Baptist roots, so it’s understandable that a religious school is not ready to jump on the support train for someone who plead guilty to possessing drugs.

No matter how it’s looked at, any type of drugs is a big no-no, putting the university in a really tough spot. Morally, it’s possible there is a great deal of internal support for Griner on Baylor’s end, but whether it’s 0.7 grams of illegal substances or 70, it’s essentially a pick-your-poison choice for the institution.

Although nothing substantial, Baylor has actually supported Griner in a few ways. The sample size is small, but the Baylor Athletics Twitter account posted a heartfelt compilation video on July 8 that ended with the hashtag “#BringBrittneyHome.” The university’s “@Baylor” Twitter account did not retweet, favorite or quote the athletic page’s post, but one statement from Baylor roughly four months prior was made to KCEN-TV in Temple.

“The news of Brittney’s detainment is obviously very alarming, and our thoughts and prayers are with BG and her family,” the statement read. “Right now, our foremost concern is for her safety and well-being during this difficult time in Russia and her eventual safe return to the United States.”

Kind, thoughtful words, yes. People want more, and that’s understandable, but unfortunately it’s not that simple.

On another note, numerous other professional athletes and coaches have voiced support for the WNBA star, including Baylor women’s basketball head coach Nicki Collen. The second-year Bears head coach said that although she did not coach Griner herself, she has coached against her and seen Griner’s high character.

“Prayers for BG’s safety and a plan to bring her home soon! I didn’t get the chance to coach BG but I got to coach against her, see her heart for others up close, and I coach every single day at a place that she helped make great. #WeAreBG,” Collen said in the Tweet.

As many have noticed, there is a public statement from the current Bears head coach, but not the one who actually coached Griner from 2009 to 2013, and here’s why.

Mulkey’s side

It’s not to say Mulkey, current head coach at Louisiana State University, is not privately backing her former standout athlete, because she may very well be doing so. History would indicate such a claim as unlikely, given the tension Mulkey and Griner had in their time together.

In the spring of 2013, Griner told reporters Mulkey and her staff encouraged the three-time Big 12 Player of the Year to keep quiet on her sexuality in order to protect recruiting. Griner said she often felt ostracized in Waco during that time and has yet to come back to a basketball game ever since her playing days.

In a recent 2021 interview with ESPN, Griner said those 2013 comments weren’t solely toward Mulkey but that the two are still not in contact. This makes perfect sense as to why Mulkey has not made a public comment regarding Griner’s situation in Russia.

In early August of 2022, Just Women’s Sports reached out to LSU’s athletic department in hopes of a statement from Mulkey, but nothing was shared. Given the way things fell through between the two, it’s doubtful the public will receive any sort of comment from the Lady Tigers head coach regarding Griner’s detainment.

It may seem unfair to Griner for the lack of support from Baylor, but everything has to be taken with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, it’s time to come together and realize that getting Griner home at all costs should be the top priority for the Baylor Family.