Mulkey’s motherly approach to Griner is something we need to see more of in sports

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.

Not true.

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.

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