By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
During a press conference on Monday, Baylor women’s basketball head coach Nicki Collen gave her thoughts regarding the detainment of eight-time WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner. Collen has been an outspoken advocate on social media for Griner’s release from Russia over the last few months, but Monday was the first time she spoke about it to the media.
Griner has been detained for 221 days — seven months, nine days — and is currently facing a nine-and-a-half year sentence over drug-related charges.
Collen said the situation is a “human rights issue” and that the ultimate priority should be for Griner’s release, regardless of public opinion.
“I just think about what it would be like to be away from my family for over 200 days,” Collen said. “This is a humanitarian thing. We can argue about whether what she did is grounds for a trade for an arms dealer. There are a lot of arguments in play. What isn’t in play, in my mind, is that we shouldn’t be doing everything in our power to get Brittney home.”
Collen added that “none of us are perfect” and that Griner “is human first.”
“I see her as a mother, as a sister, as a spouse, as a daughter, as an unbelievable ambassador for the game of basketball,” Collen said.
Earlier on Monday, former Baylor head coach and current LSU head coach Kim Mulkey declined to comment on the Griner situation. This isn’t the first time Mulkey, Griner’s coach at Baylor, refused to publicly speak on the matter.
“And you won’t,” Mulkey said when asked to comment on Griner.
Queen Egbo and Chloe Jackson, two former Bears, responded via Twitter to Mulkey’s lack of a statement.
“A player that has built Baylor, two national titles and a 40-0 record,” Egbo’s tweet read. “Yet her former coach refuses to say anything or simply just show any kind of support. Keep that in mind when you’re choosing schools.”
“And I will say it again,” Jackson’s tweet read. “SILENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES, smh [shaking my head].”
UPDATED: On Thursday, Sept. 29, Lariat TV News gained audio courtesy of Tiger Rag Radio with comments from Mulkey back in late June of this year. Her words contradict public opinion swirling Mulkey’s lack of presser responses to Griner questions.
“I keep up with it like you guys do as far as what’s in the national media,” Mulkey said. “I don’t make public comments about it, I think that’s a personal issue. You just want everybody to come home safely. I pray for Brittney, I want her home safely. I think there’s lots of people speaking out on her behalf and those of us who don’t necessarily speak publicly about it certainly are praying for her.”
Sept. 26: Griner has also been criticized for her silent protest of kneeling for the national anthem. Collen, now in her second-year at the helm for the Bears, responded to those who are quick to berate Griner for kneeling.
“We can argue about kneeling or not kneeling all day long,” Collen said. “Brittney Griner has worn that USA across her chest and won gold medals for this country.”
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA and was named MVP of the gold medal game in 2018.
Collen, the 2018 WNBA Coach of the Year, said it bothers her to hear negative comments toward Griner and the situation. She said “it’s easy to question people you don’t know” and that it’s her Christian duty to show compassion.
“It’s not my job to judge,” Collen said. “As a Christian, it’s to give grace, it’s to love, to love one another. Knowing BG, to know her is to love her. She is one of those people that radiates joy, that would give you a high five or a hug.”
Collen added that folks are hasty to comment on the matter from a skewed viewpoint. She asked the question: “Would everyone be saying the same thing if it was their sister [in Griner’s shoes]?”
For the upcoming season, Collen said she is in the works on honoring Griner in some sort of way.
Collen, the Naismith Coach of the Year semifinalist, said Griner is a pivotal piece in Baylor women’s basketball history and that “the goal is to get her jersey retired and hanging in the rafters [of the Ferrell Center].”
She said she isn’t sure if it’ll be this season or if the honor will come when the Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion is built. Nevertheless, Collen said her ultimate goal is to do whatever is in her power to help Griner.
“Basically it’s been a big deal to do it right by her,” Collen said. “I’ve been in contact with her agent since I got the job. BG’s family; She’s Baylor family. So to me, anything we can do to help her and her family is important.”