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Kim Mulkey-Brittney Griner controversy, explained: Why LSU coach has anti-LGBTQ reputation

By David Suggs,


Kim Mulkey is one of the most contentious personalities in college basketball.

The LSU coach is undeniably brilliant at the X's and O's; she led Baylor to three national titles during her time in Waco and has turned LSU into an SEC powerhouse since taking over the Tigers in 2021.

Her on-court accolades are hard to diminish, but Mulkey has been a lightning rod for criticism in recent years. Her lack of public support for former player Brittney Griner was a notable black mark; Mulkey rebuffed attempts to offer a public endorsement for Griner, who was detained in a Russian prison for nearly 10 months after allegedly having hashish oil in her luggage.

MORE: Brittney Griner detainment, explained

Griner is Mulkey's best-known prodigy. But the veteran coach hasn't offered much support for the former Bear outside of the occasional canned statement. When a reporter noted at a September 2022 news conference that he didn't recall Mulkey speaking up about Griner's detainment, the coach responded, "And you won't," before changing the subject.

The Sporting News examines the relationship between Mulkey and Griner, one that started with promise but has seemingly deteriorated due to Mulkey's personal views.

Kim Mulkey-Brittney Griner controversy, explained

Griner isn't just one of the best athletes in the world. She's also one of the most open. As a Black gay woman, Griner has faced a torrent of racist, homophobic and misogynistic abuse over the years, even stemming back to her days in Waco.

Back then, life was difficult for Griner. Although she starred on the court, she couldn't quite be herself off it. At least not vocally.

"When I was at Baylor, I wasn't fully happy because I couldn't be all the way out," Griner told ESPN's Kate Fagan in 2013. "It feels so good saying it: I am a strong, Black lesbian woman. Every single time I say it, I feel so much better."

Fagan's article highlighted some of the conflict between Griner and Mulkey during their Baylor days. Although the then-Bears coach was outwardly supportive towards Griner's plight — even referring to Griner as a “human being" in light of all the vitriol she received during the 2012 NCAA Tournament — it seems the atmosphere surrounding the program was far less accepting.

"I already knew the answer," Griner said about asking Mulkey if she could come out. "I didn't want to hear 'No.' It was a recruiting thing. The coaches thought if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn't let their kids play for Baylor."

That wasn't the only part of Griner's identity that she was forced to hide. Her arms and back, scrawled with colorful tattoos that give onlookers a glimpse into who she is, were shrouded in fabric — Mulkey reportedly forced Griner to wear a long-sleeve T-shirt.

"Brittney couldn't show those tattoos or talk openly because it was Baylor," former teammate Brooklyn Pope said. "It would have been frowned upon."

Mulkey declined an interview with Fagan for that 2013 story, though she did release a statement praising Griner for her on-court accomplishments.

“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.”

Mulkey's words rang hollow, especially when compared with other statements she had made in the past. She recoiled when Outsports' co-founder Cyd Zeigler asked her if she ever coached a gay player:

Outsports: "Have you ever had a gay player on your team?"

Kim Mulkey: "Don't ask me that. I don't ask that. I don't think it's anybody's business. Whoever you are. I don't care to know that."

Fagan also revealed that Mulkey tried to get her canned from ESPN on account of her profile of Griner.

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.

Mulkey offered an obligatory show of generic support here and there. But even her defense's of her star play felt somewhat empty, per Griner.

"If you're up here protecting me, then protect all of me," Griner said about Mulkey's "human being" comment. "We can talk about gender, but we can't talk about the fact that I'm a lesbian?"

Griner has no qualms about the person she has become. She's grown into not just a future Hall of Fame player, but an advocate for those hoping to escape the rigidity of binaries within gender and sexuality. Her liberation, both spiritually and physically, has served as a model for millions.

Whether Mulkey understands it or not doesn't change that.

"So many people exist between the two ends of the spectrum, but no one wants to admit it," Griner said. "If you're in between, they say something is wrong with you. 'We can fix you.' Well, I don't need fixing."

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