Brittney Griner’s college basketball coach criticised for refusing to comment on her incarceration

The WNBA star said she was pressured to conceal that she is a lesbian while she played under Ms Mulkey

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 27 September 2022 21:25 BST
Related video: Brittney Griner pleads guilty as Russian court sentences her to nine years in jail

WNBA star Brittney Griner's former college basketball coach refused to comment on the player's incarceration in Russia and people have some thoughts on her decision to stay quiet.

Kim Mulkey, the head coach of the Louisiana State University women's basketball team, was asked about her former player during a press conference on Monday. The Daily Advertiser asked Ms Mulkey her thoughts on Griner, who was sentenced on drug charges and serving a prison term in Russia.

"And you won't," Ms Mulkey answered, before moving on.

The curt reply drew criticism online.

One Twitter user pointed out the relationship between the two women during their time at the college and expressed disappointment that Ms Mulkey was not more invested in Griner’s situation.

“Kim Mulkey coached Brittney Griner for 4 years. Griner led one of her teams to an undefeated season and national championship,” the user wrote. “And Mulkey can’t even bring herself to offer sympathy to Griner’s wife or hope that Griner is safe and will be released soon. What an awful person.”

Another user slammed the coach for lacking leadership and said LSU should be “ashamed” to have her on its payroll.

“This isn’t leadership. Everyone at LSU involved in the hiring process and pushing to bring Mulkey in as head coach should be ashamed. She can’t even show sympathy for Brittney Griner?” the user wrote. “It’d be something to see every LSU player who cares request a transfer.”

It's unclear why Ms Mulkey refused to comment on Griner when asked directly about the situation. Ms Mulkey coached Griner at Baylor University between 2009 and 2013. That team won a national championship at the end of a historic 40-0 season in 2011-2012. That year also saw Griner named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player of that season.

However, Ms Mulkey has discussed Griner’s situation in the past. In June she was interviewed on “Tiger Rag Radio” and offered some thoughts on her former player’s situation.

“I keep up with it, like you guys do, as far as what’s in the national media. I don’t make public comments about it. I think that’s a personal issue that 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,” she said.

Despite their success together, there is reason to believe the women have had a contentious relationship. In 2013, fresh off an incredible year for her personal performance, Griner claimed in a 2013 EPSN interview that Baylor University pressured her to downplay the fact that she was a lesbian.

Baylor is a private, Christian university and includes in its "Human Sexuality FAQ" that "all members of the University community are encouraged to consider and respect the teachings of Jesus and the beliefs common to the Christian church," — namely that marriage and sexuality are gifts from God, so long as they're between a man and a woman. Sex out of wedlock and homosexual sex of any kind does not fall within those parameters.

The university does make clear on its website that no student will be punished or spared any resources simply for identifying as LGBTQ.

Griner discussed her struggles at Baylor with ESPN while Ms Mulkey declined to be interviewed. Instead, she issued a statement through a spokesperson.

"Brittney Griner represented Baylor University proudly on and off the basketball court, and she leaves behind an incredible legacy," the spokesperson said. "I cannot comment on personal matters surrounding any of our student-athletes, but I can tell you Brittney will always be a celebrated member of the Baylor family."

Baylor stayed mostly quiet on the issue, though its then-President Ken Starr — yes, that Ken Starr — issued a statement to Dallas Morning News reporter Chuck Carlton.

“All I know is that we adore her, she had four great years and we’re proud of her,” Mr Starr reportedly said.

Kate Fagan, the journalist that wrote the ESPN story, later claimed during a podcast interview that Ms Mulkey tried to have her fired over the article.

"I did a story in which Brittney Griner told me that when she was at Baylor that she was not allowed to be openly gay, and this wasn't a shocking story considering it is actually written in the handbook of Baylor University that you are not allowed to be openly gay at Baylor University," Ms Fagan said on the podcast. "But after we put out that story, Kim Mulkey believed that I had forced Brittney Griner to say this, and she told the higher-ups at ESPN that I needed to be fired for this. She called the higher-ups and told them that I should be fired."

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