When women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey begins her new job at Louisiana State University this winter, she’ll be bringing a Hall of Fame reputation and three National Championships won at Baylor with her to Baton Rouge. The Hall of Famer accepted the Tigers head coaching job on Sunday.
For LGBTQ players and sports fans, she’ll also be bringing considerable baggage and questions about how she’ll handle any potential out athletes on the LSU roster.
Over the past two decades, Mulkey has exhibited a pattern of discomfort with the topic of gay and lesbian athletes. In the summer of 2012, for example, Mulkey spoke to Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler, who asked her a simple question: “Have you ever had a gay player on your team?”
Her response: “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.”
It probably wasn’t a good sign that the only difference between Mulkey’s answer and a Tommy Lasorda quote is about twelve obscenities.
At the time, of course, Mulkey was coming off a 2012 national title at Baylor in large part because she had a gay player on her team: Final Four Most Outstanding Player Britney Griner, who was in the closet throughout her Baylor career. And Mulkey gave this answer despite the fact that Griner had informed Mulkey that she was gay when she was recruited.
Griner came out in April of 2013 after being drafted by the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and shortly thereafter, she made it abundantly clear that Mulkey had encouraged her to hide her sexuality as a student athlete:
“It was a recruiting thing. The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn’t let their kids come play at Baylor.
“It was more of an unwritten law [to not discuss your sexuality]... It was just kind of, like, one of those things, you know, just don’t do it. They kind of tried to make it like, ‘Why put your business out on the street like that?’”
Normally, this would be a place to drop a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell comparison. Except the military repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011. Perhaps Mulkey didn’t care to know that either.
As Griner wrote in her autobiography, living a closeted life meant that she looked back on her time at Baylor with regret despite her numerous athletic triumphs:
“I would love to be an ambassador for Baylor, to show my school pride, but it’s hard to do that... I’ve spent too much of my life being made to feel like there’s something wrong with me. And no matter how much support I felt as a basketball player at Baylor, it still doesn’t erase all the pain I felt there.”
A year after Griner’s coming out revealed the dark undercurrents of Mulkey’s program, 2005 Baylor National Champion Emily Nkosi shared her college basketball experience with Outsports to provide greater insight into her coach and her place in the school’s culture. She concluded that Mulkey’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community were inextricably entwined with the university’s:
“Coach Mulkey is a member of an athletic department, a school, a town, a state and even a region that is known for its conservative belief system, which very much includes homophobia. As leader and icon in each of these arenas, Coach Mulkey has been unfairly singled out as particularly homophobic based on what happened with me and then Brittney Griner. But in my experience she did not express opinions that were different from the dominant belief system held in that community.”
Nkosi further asserted that “I had no idea what Coach Mulkey would actually say if I told her I was gay in 2005, but I had enough information from my life experiences to be afraid.”
Perhaps, as Nkosi implies, Mulkey’s worldview could benefit by leaving such a homophobic environment. But that’s only speculation.
By agreeing to the LSU job, Mulkey is taking her personal history of aligning with the institutionalized homophobia at Baylor to a public university with over 31,000 students and numerous LGBTQ+ student organizations. And it is especially important that LSU’s LGBTQ community knows the full problematic history of the coach their school just hired.
Even if she doesn’t want to be asked about it.