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 was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison by a Russian court for drug trafficking and drug possession. The news came six months after Griner’s initial arrest at a Moscow airport, as she has been detained throughout that time.

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

From Baylor’s perspective

There’s a lot that goes into something like this, and it’s not as simple as one plus one (although I wish it was). It’s no secret that Griner’s gay orientation plays a major role in any hesitation about graduating from college, but there’s another big element to that: drugs. Baylor still identifies itself as a private Christian university with Baptist roots, so it’s understandable that a religious school wouldn’t be willing to jump on the support train for someone who pleads guilty to drug possession.

No matter how you look at it, any kind of drug is a big no-no, putting the university in a very tough spot. Morally, there may be a lot of internal support for Griner on Baylor’s side, but whether it’s 0.7 grams of illegal substances or 70, it’s essentially a choice of poison for l ‘institution.

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

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

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

On another note, many other professional athletes and coaches have expressed their support for the WNBA star, including Baylor women’s basketball head coach Nicki Collen. The second-year Bears head coach said that while she didn’t coach Griner herself, she coached against her and saw Griner’s high character.

“Prayers for BG’s safety and a plan to get her home soon! I didn’t get a chance to coach BG but I was able to coach against her, see her heart for others up close, and j ‘trains every day in a place she helped make great #WeAreBG,’ Collen said in the Tweeter.

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

Mulkey’s side

That’s not to say that Mulkey, the current head coach at Louisiana State University, doesn’t privately support his former standout athlete, because she very well could. History would indicate that such a claim is unlikely, given the tension Mulkey and Griner had during their time together.

In the spring of 2013, Griner told reporters that Mulkey and her team had encouraged the three-time Big 12 Player of the Year to remain silent about her sexuality in order to protect recruiting. Griner said she often felt ostracized in Waco during this time and has yet to return to a basketball game since her playing days.

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

In early August 2022, Just Women’s Sports reached out to LSU’s athletic department hoping for a statement from Mulkey, but nothing was shared. Given the way things have played out between the two, the public is unlikely to receive any comments from the Lady Tigers head coach regarding Griner’s detention.

It may seem unfair to Griner for Baylor’s lack of support, but it’s all to be taken with a grain of salt. Ultimately, it’s time to come together and realize that bringing Griner home at all costs should be the Baylor family’s top priority.

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