Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey spoke to the Associated Press. She said Brittney Griner’s punching of Jordan Barncastle shouldn’t define the freshman star, and called Griner a “gentle giant.” She’s also requiring Griner to perform some type of extra duties beyond her two-game suspension – work she wouldn’t comment on or define.
But this from Mulkey explains where she’s coming from, and how she’s dealing with Griner:
“Until you’ve sat in [the head coach’s] seat and seen your players every day, there’s only one person that can make the decision. It doesn’t matter what other people’s opinions are,” Mulkey said. “I am a head coach. I am a mother. And all that comes into play when you’re dealing with young people.”……
“What she did prior to that incident [punching Barncastle] speaks volumes if you’ve seen her play,” Mulkey said. “What she will do after the incident will help define Brittney Griner. … I tend to think Brittney Griner has proven nothing to me but that she’s going to learn life’s lessons.”
I wholeheartedly appreciate this compassionate but firm approach, coupled with its understanding of the fundamental nature of young people: that they make mistakes. And that they tend to repeat those mistakes over and over until they finally learn the lesson. It’s the same approach I use when dealing with kids, and it really gets through to them. But it is denegrated by some in our still-sexist sports culture as being “soft.” Male coaches, in particular, sometimes think along the “throw the book at ’em” lines – as well as a lot of yelling – are the way to go. If you’re not doing that, you’re too soft.
It’s possible to give a stubborn athlete who won’t eat breakfast before she leaves the house an orange and a granola bar in the morning and then turn around and get on her case about something (or reverse that sequence of action). I did that just this morning.
It’s possible to not chew a kid out at all when she’s messed up, but to let her know in a calm and reasoned voice the consequences of her actions, and watch her take in everything you say. I do that sometimes too.
Firm and loving are not mutually-exclusive; they can work together very well, and they should for the right kids. And seeing where a kid is coming from – and having compassion for that – isn’t a weakness but a strength. Lest we forget, we all messed up when we were young, so no one needs to be unnecessarily self-righteous about their own rites of passage.
Mulkey’s reaction to her player’s actions was the same as my own: while I’m sorry the incident occurred, I realize Griner is 19. When you’re that age, you sometimes don’t make the best decisions, and your emotions can get the better of you. I don’t necessarily think the incident is indicative of Griner as a person. She’ll be allright – especially under the guidance of her coach.
I like what Mulkey said, and she is right. Dealing with young people with a mother’s lens is a great way to go.