It doesn’t take bravery to support Brittney Griner, just a shred of human decency. Griner’s former coach, Kim Mulkey, couldn’t be bothered to clear the lowest of bars. Mulkey, who coached Griner at Baylor from 2009-13, has been one of the few people who personally knows Griner and still elects to remain silent since her arrest in Russia back in February for possession of less than one gram of hashish oil.
Mulkey, now at LSU, was asked by Cory Diaz of USA Today on Monday to speak about Griner’s arrest and she shot down any suggestion she’d even entertain discussing the issue.
Diaz: “I just wanted to get your thoughts on Brittney Griner’s situation. I don’t think I’ve seen anything from you on that …”
Mulkey: “And you won’t.”
To be abundantly clear: Griner screwed up. Nobody is saying she did nothing wrong, but the circumstances of her arrest make it evident she made a mistake. Griner was prescribed medicinal cannabis in Arizona, where it is legal, traveled to Russia to play, and had vaporizer cartridges in her luggage. These contained less than one gram of hashish oil. No intent to distribute, no evidence she was actively trying to “smuggle” drugs into Russia, and even the most harsh reading of her crime would indicate she was trying to continue to use hashish while in Russia.
This mistake took place at the worst possible time, one week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It turned Griner into a political pawn, a chance for the Russian government to punish a prominent westerner while being sanctioned by the majority of the world for starting a war under false pretenses. While Russia does have a history of strict drug laws on paper, they are also routinely bent to serve political needs. In 2019 an Israeli backpacker was caught entering the same airport where Griner was arrested, also in possession of hashish oil, but he had 10 grams in his possession, over 10 times the amount Griner had. The man was released after a few months, and allowed to return home.
Meanwhile, Griner pleaded guilty, as she was largely forced to do by Russia’s corrupt legal system, and sentenced to nine years in prison for drug trafficking. It was a ludicrous sentence considering the small amount in her possession was not enough to trade or deal, and all evidence pointed to the hashish oil being for personal use.
It’s critical we understand the factors at play when it comes to Griner’s arrest, because it’s the heart of why Mulkey saying nothing is so disgusting. This isn’t a completely unrelated question to ask, it’s not simply tangential to Mulkey’s job as a basketball coach — she directly knows, coached, and worked with Griner for four years. The duo was pivotal in winning a championship in 2011-12, leading Baylor to a 40-0 record, and earning Mulkey AP Coach of the Year honors.
All this history, and Mulkey has nothing to say. No words of encouragement. No support for a former player. No basic empathy for Griner being locked in a Russian prison and made an example out of because of her nationality. Nothing.
This is the woman who is tasked with nurturing and molding young players at LSU. This is the kind of person courting parents and asking for their trust in sending their young athletes to play for her. Kim Mulkey will use your kids to fulfill her goals, just don’t ask her to have their back or support when they’re gone.
In many ways this is not surprising. Griner and Mulkey have had a somewhat icy relationship since their time together at Baylor. After being drafted No. 1 overall Griner explained that Mulkey didn’t want players to openly discuss their sexuality.
“It was a recruiting thing. The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn’t let their kids come play for Baylor.”
The profile on Griner for ESPN, which contained the segment about Mulkey wanting players to hide their sexuality caused the coach a headache. Kate Fagan, who wrote the report, alleged in 2021 that Mulkey called her bosses at ESPN and demanded she get fired for the report. When Mulkey joined LSU she once again had to answer questions about her “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to sexuality in her locker room.
Regardless, it was a professional inconvenience of Mulkey’s own doing. If she holds a grudge against Griner for making it public, that’s her prerogative — but if that’s it the reason she refuses to say anything about Griner’s arrest, then it’s a disgusting level of pettiness.
Sure, nothing will actually be achieved by Mulkey speaking about Griner’s arrest. It’s not like the Russian government is waiting with bated breath to hear from Kim Mulkey on the issue — but that’s not the point. It’s about a conglomeration of support, words that can make it to Griner in prison, knowing those closest to her still have her back, willing her to keep persevering in a reprehensible situation.
Griner’s former teammates, and everyone in basketball’s orbit have had her back since day one. Queen Egbo, who played at Baylor from 2018-22, was highly critical of her former coach.
A player that built Baylor, 2 national titles, & a 40-0 record. Yet every former coach refuses to say anything or simply just show any kind of support. Keep that in mind when you’re choosing schools.
— Queen (@QueenEgbo_) September 26, 2022
Chloe Jackson, who also played for Mulkey at Baylor, joined in the condemnation of her former coach.
And I will say it again. SILENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES, smh.
— Chloe Jackson (@Clj_0) September 26, 2022
Perhaps the most stark comparison is how current Baylor coach Nicki Colleen spoke about Griner. She spent almost five minutes addressing speaking about Griner’s impact on Baylor basketball, women’s basketball as a whole, and the circumstances behind her arrest. Colleen never worked directly with Griner, only coached against her, and had no overt personal link to Griner — yet spoke volumes, while Mulkey couldn’t even be bothered to offer the situation the time of day.
Allow this to be a cautionary tale for everyone at LSU, every player thinking of attending LSU — and every parent considering sending their children to LSU. When it comes to Kim Mulkey, your value only extends to how much it benefits her, and what you can do for her. Don’t expect the coach to have your back, or even be bothered to say anything unless it directly benefits her. In both actions and words, Kim Mulkey isn’t willing to do the bare minimum — and that says it all.