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.

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So, how did Brittney Griner end up at Baylor?

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Trust me when I say that I am very, very aware, after nearly a decade in this niche in cyberspace, that GetReligion readers are stunningly uninterested in sports news. However, I am a sports fan and I have noticed, as a religion-beat reporter through the years, that religion and sports often get shoved into the same blender in the American marketplace.

Can you say “Tim Tebow”? I knew that you could.

Anyway, even the most oblivious of GetReligion readers, when it comes to sports, will have noticed that quite a few tall people — male and female — can be seen on legions of cable channels at the moment bouncing and shooting basketballs. The words “March” and “Madness” are often connected with good cause. Millions of Americans are in hoops heaven, these days.

Now, as Baylor University alum, I am primarily tuned into the women at this point (although the guys are in the NIT, which staggers on year after year). The Baylor Lady Bears are the defending national champions and are the favorites to win it all once again, due in large part to the superstar center in her size 17 sneakers.

There has been quite a bit of good writing lately about 6-foot-8 senior Brittney Griner who, at this point, has clearly established herself as a gamechanger in her sport, especially on defense. It is not a stretch to call her the Bill Russell of women’s basketball. I thought that, in particular, this Kate Fagan at ESPN.com — “What Brittney Griner Says About Us” — did a great job of digging underneath much of the online hatred that Griner has faced through her remarkable career. Read it all.

The articulate young woman from Baylor also received some recent attention in The New York Times. Here is a key sample from that news feature, near the end:

As a freshman, Griner sometimes appeared to grow flustered by the taunts of opposing fans and by jostling from opposing players. After being flung in the lane, she punched Jordan Barncastle of Texas Tech, breaking her nose. But Griner has since grown largely inured to the catcalls and the strong-arming (though she drew a flagrant foul this season for grabbing Connecticut’s Stefanie Dolson by the arm and seeming to yank her down).

“I think she’s developed a really poised demeanor,” Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I watch men’s games and I’m like, ‘That doesn’t happen to the best male players, the way Brittney gets beat up.’ She doesn’t seem to get discouraged. She doesn’t tank. Some players, things don’t go their way, and they tank.”

If opposing fans try to rattle Griner, they are also drawn to watch her in large numbers. When Baylor traveled this season, home attendance for opposing teams rose an average of 3,642 fans. She attracted the largest crowd ever to watch a game at West Virginia — 13,447, a ballooning contrast to the Mountaineers’ home average at the time, 1,894, lowest in the Big 12.

Asked to name Griner’s biggest influence, Gary Blair, who coached Texas A&M to the 2011 national championship, said, “Putting butts in seats at road games.” …

But there is one team that can stand up to Baylor, Griner joked Monday, pressed by ESPN commentators.

“The Miami Heat,” she said.

Now, all of this for me raises an interesting question, a question that — for four years — I have been waiting for a major newsroom to ask: Why did the No. 1 recruit in the recent history of women’s basketball, a girl who was already dunking the basketball dozens of time in competition while in high school, choose to go to Baylor University in the media hotbed of Waco, Texas?

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