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Explaining Kim Mulkey’s complicated relationship with Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner and coach Kim Mulkey address the media after Baylor’s 2012 national championship win. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

Since Brittney Griner was taken into Russian custody in February, basketball players and coaches around the world have offered their support for the WNBA star.

But one person has been absent from the outpouring of support: Kim Mulkey.

The conversation around Mulkey’s silence came to a head on Monday, after Cory Diaz, an LSU women’s basketball reporter for The Daily Advertiser, asked Mulkey to comment on Griner’s detainment in a press conference.

Diaz said that he had yet to hear Mulkey say anything about Griner.

“And you won’t,” the coach replied.

Griner was arrested in February in a Moscow-area airport for allegedly having hashish oil in her luggage. Since then, WNBA players such as Skylar Diggins-Smith and Breanna Stewart as well as coaches such as South Carolina’s Dawn Staley have spoken out and answered questions about Griner, emphasizing their desire to bring her home.

After Griner was convicted in August and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for drug smuggling charges, Just Women’s Sports obtained a statement from Baylor, where Mulkey coached Griner from 2009-13.

“With the unsettling news of the verdict and sentencing of Brittney Griner, we continue to pray for her ongoing strength and safety throughout her detainment,” read the statement from the Baylor women’s basketball program. “We recognize the extraordinary complexity of this situation, yet we remain hopeful of the day she will again set foot on U.S. ground.”

JWS also reached out to LSU, but no comment was provided. An athletic department spokesperson said he would reach out if Mulkey decided to release a statement. She never did.

Though Mulkey said Monday that she wouldn’t comment on the ongoing situation, she did offer some insight to her silence on the Tiger Rag podcast back in June.

“Well I keep up with it, like you guys do as far as what’s in the National Media,” Mulkey said on the podcast. “I don’t make public comments. I think that is a personal issue. You just want everybody to come home safely, and I pray for Brittney. I want her home safely. I think there are lots of people speaking out on her behalf, and those of us who don’t necessarily speak publicly are praying for her.”

That is the only time Mulkey has offered any insight into her thought process on the Griner situation.

This isn’t the first time Mulkey has been embroiled in controversy regarding her statements about Griner. After Griner left Baylor in 2013 and was selected as the first overall pick by the Phoenix Mercury, information about the seemingly contentious relationship between the two came to light.

In a 2013 profile by ESPN’s Kate Fagan, Raymond Griner, Brittney’s father, stated that once Baylor lost to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, Mulkey didn’t contact his daughter again.

“It’s about dollar signs,” Raymond told Fagan. “There’s nothing in it for Kim anymore, so she’s done with Brittney.”

Shakira Austin, current WNBA player and former Ole Miss standout, echoed that sentiment Monday in a tweet about the Mulkey press conference in which she declined to comment about Griner.

“It’s all business smh once you no longer benefit their lives watch how they move after. Recruits, idk what else to suggest besides just go overseas and be selfish,” she tweeted.

Queen Egbo, who played for Mukley from 2018-21, before Mulkey took the head coaching job at LSU, retweeted Austin’s statement, and she offered insight of her own with multiple tweets about Griner and Mulkey.

Perhaps the most pointed was a tweet in which she referenced the success Baylor and Mulkey had thanks to Griner.

“A player that built Baylor, 2 national titles & a 40-0 record,” Egbo wrote. “Yet her former coach refuses to say anything or simply just show any kind of support. Keep that in mind when choosing schools.”

Egbo, a 2022 WNBA All-Rookie selection of the Indiana Fever, later corrected her tweet to say “two Final Fours” rather than “two national titles,” as Baylor made the Final Four with Griner in 2010 and later won an NCAA championship with her in 2012.

(Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

Fagan’s 2013 article revealed more tension between Griner and Mulkey, specifically in relation to Griner’s sexuality. Mulkey did not want Griner to talk about her sexuality while playing for the Bears, Griner said, though her being gay was an “open secret.”

During Griner’s playing career at Baylor, Mulkey was outwardly supportive of her star center. She even addressed the hate Griner received online during a 2012 NCAA Tournament press conference, stating that Griner was a “human being.”

Fagan’s article about Griner can be marked as the start of Mulkey choosing not to address controversy surrounding Griner.

The coach declined an interview for the story, though she later released a statement to Fagan through a spokesperson which said: “Brittney Griner represented Baylor University proudly on and off the basketball court, and she leaves behind an incredible legacy. 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.”

After the story was published, Fagan said Mulkey reached out to ESPN, her employer at the time, asking for Fagan to be fired. Mulkey allegedly claimed Fagan “forced” Griner into making statements for the article.

While several of Mulkey’s former players, including Egbo and NaLyssa Smith, have been critical of their former coach, current LSU player Alexis Morris was firm in her support of Mulkey on Twitter.

Morris tweeted that the “ball was in Russia’s court,” and “them people told us to be quiet or they won’t do the trade,” before later tweeting, “I’m saying God is in control and this is bigger than you, me and Kim.”

Morris also pinned a tweet in which she offered support for Griner, stating the following: “No matter what. It’s forever #FreeBG, until it’s backwards.”

Morris played for Mulkey at Baylor during the 2017-18 season, but was dismissed from the squad following an arrest for allegedly assaulting another woman. Morris was then arrested again in December of 2017 in Beaumont, Texas, for “marijuana possession and possession of a dangerous substance.”

Since then, Morris bounced around, playing at Rutgers and then Texas A&M before getting a second chance with her former coach. She transferred to LSU in 2021 after Mulkey took the helm for the Tigers.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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