Brittany Griner: ESPN gets close to key question

Truth be told, I still think that the question I asked a few weeks ago remains one of the most interesting questions one can ask about that big story that keeps unfolding down in Waco: “So, how did Brittney Griner end up at Baylor?”

That’s an interesting question for Griner.

That’s an interesting question for Griner’s parents and her wider family.

That’s an interesting question in terms of gossip about national-level hoops recruiting.

That’s an interesting question in terms of Baylor University’s standing as a Baptist institution that prominently promotes its stance as a Christian campus.

You just knew that, after Griner announced that she is a lesbian, this story was going to have long news legs. The latest story from ESPN raises a few interesting questions and at least acknowledges a key document in the situation.

Still, the heart of the story remains something that has not yet been proven — that Griner actively opposed how Baylor, and perhaps her own family, handled her emerging stance as a gay woman. Here is the top of the story:

Former Baylor women’s basketball star Brittney Griner says that Kim Mulkey, her college head coach, told players not to be open publicly about their sexuality because it would hurt recruiting and look bad for the program.

“It was a recruiting thing,” Griner said during an interview with ESPN The Magazine and espnW. “The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn’t let their kids come play for Baylor.”

Griner, now preparing for her first WNBA season with the Phoenix Mercury, casually acknowledged she was gay during interviews with USA Today and with SI.com last month, when she referred to herself as “someone who has always been open.” Griner said she had been open about her sexuality with family and friends since she was a freshman at Nimitz High School, in Houston.

Well, the truth — of course — is that Baylor does not condone sexual activity outside of marriage and, thus, from the point of view of traditional Christian faith, does not condone gay sexual activity.

Now, Griner is quoting saying that it was an “unwritten law” not to TALK about sexual orientation. That’s a key issue from the point of view of public relations, recruiting (in all forms) for the university, etc., etc.

That is an issue of image and it’s certainly true that Baylor could come off looking badly, when it comes to demanding, or at least urging, Griner to keep silent. It would be interesting to know if her family played some role in that, too. After all, Griner told Baylor coaches she was gay during the recruiting process. It’s clear that they reached some kind of agreement.

Once again, there’s that question: How did the nation’s No. 1 recruit end up in Waco?

Anyway, Baylor’s stance on sexual ethics is in writing and, to its credit, the ESPN team goes to the source.

Baylor University, a private Baptist school located in Waco, Texas, has a “Statement on Human Sexuality” in its student handbook. Located under the label “Sexual Misconduct,” it says that “Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm. Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

The University also encourages students “struggling with these issues” to consult either the Spiritual Life Office or the Baylor University Counseling.

The problem, of course, is that the story does not say whether Baylor requires students to sign any kind of document in which they promise to live by that doctrinal covenant that defines the school as a private Christian school and as a voluntary association.

But wait: Is anyone, anywhere claiming that Griner violated the specifics of that covenant?

Griner has not, so far, claimed that. And Baylor officials certainly aren’t claiming that (although there are legal, privacy issues at play when discussing matters of student discipline):

When asked Saturday to comment on Griner’s recruiting remarks, Baylor referred to a statement it issued to ESPN The Magazine and espnW on behalf of Mulkey earlier this month. The coach declined to comment specifically, but said in the statement: “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.”

When this full story is in print, it will be interesting to see what Griner has to say on these issues. Would it be shocking if Griner (perhaps with parental guidance) simply chose to play at Baylor, while honoring the school’s beliefs, and that is that?

Is that a story? She kept her word and Baylor officials did too? if so, that would be a very interesting story, indeed.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Kodos

    OK, I’ll buck the GetReligion code of silence and actually, yes, comment on a sports-related topic! :)

    I think Terry is highlighting an interesting journalistic angle to this story – an angle that has important social and political ramifications.

    Can people of faith and the institutions they create maintain beliefs and policies that forbid homosexual behavior while at the same time employing and personally supporting homosexual persons as friends? And can homosexuals at those institutions respect and abide by those beliefs and policies without trying to force those institutions to change those policies? In other words, can faith-based institutions and homosexuals get along by treating each other – for lack of a better word – “honorably” as friends?

    Should journalists be asking this question? I think so, and this Baylor/Griner story is precisely the milieu in which this journalistic question ought to be asked. For it doesn’t seem to me that either Baylor or Griner have any bad feelings about the period of time they worked together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.newell Matthew Newell

    I went to Baylor, and don’t recall signing any formal honor code or special document for the general student body. (To clarify–there is an honor code, but it’s just part of academic integrity expectations and it’s included in the handbook.) Like any school there is a student handbook outlining expected behavior, and some of these requirements are certainly representative of a private Baptist university–alcohol is not permitted on campus, for example. But there is no separate document that students must sign, if I remember correctly.

    Of course, I wasn’t a student athlete, so I’m not sure if they have an extra requirement that I wouldn’t know.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.webber.127 Sarah Webber

    Perhaps the people at ESPN cannot conceive of a college student living chastely, whichever sex they prefer.

    • wlinden

      Or of anybody living chastely. It is taken as axiomatic that Everybody Does It, and if you say otherwise, you are lying.


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