Hearing what Brittney Griner said about how being gay allegedly made Baylor coach Kim Mulkey ask her to keep it a secret so recruiting and perception would not be impacted caused me to wonder something:
What is the current attitude in the WNBA about this? Do coaches worry about how gay and straight players may get along on the same team? Have they ever made a roster decision based on a player’s sexual preferences?
I had no clue whether I’d get a direct answer, let alone any answer at all. But ESPN’s Carolyn Peck, a former college and pro coach, Rebecca Lobo [you know who she is] and Bill Laimbeer, the former Detroit Pistons center who now coaches the New York Liberty offered what I thought we constructive honest answers during Monday’s WNBA Conference call:
“Well, from a coach’s perspective, the way that I look at it is players are players. I think – this is my feeling – that the media really puts more of an interest on the homosexuality or heterosexuality, the sexuality of the player than the players do. The player steps out on the court in a uniform, they pick up the basketball and they play the game.
“What people do in their personal lives I actually have no interest in. What I am interested in when it comes to college basketball, the WNBA, is the performance of the players and what they do on the court.
“And as a coach, that was my emphasis. When I was in the WNBA, we worked. They have a job to do. They come and do the job, whether it’s to defend, run the screen and roll, shoot the three, play a one three one, play a zone, play a match?up, play a man to man, and that’s what we coach the players to do.”
“The players don’t care. The players in the WNBA don’t care what their teammate’s sexual orientation is. And usually women in the WNBA, because they’re no longer 17, 18 years old, are women. They’re comfortable and so most of them are very open about who they are. They’ll introduce you to their boyfriend; they’ll introduce you to their girlfriend; because they know there are no judgments being made.
“You’re always going to have teammates that you like and teammates that you don’t, but it’s never based on their sexual orientation. I think because these women are at a different place in their lives and more mature, more comfortable with who they are, it’s not really talked about, but it’s not hidden in any way. People are just really comfortable with who they are. It’s really actually a nice environment to be in to be honest with you.”
I followed this up by asking Rebecca why women seem to deal with this issue so much more gracefully than the men do like with the Jason Collins situation. It strikes me that they’re all adults. Why is it such a big deal in the NBA and why do the women in the WNBA seem to handle it with a much more aplomb and sensibility?
“Because women handle everything with more aplomb and sensibility,” Lobo said. “We’re just better (laughing). No, what’s interesting to me is when you play a professional women’s sport, whatever it is, when you play a men’s professional sport, you’re assumed to be straight; and when you play a women’s professional sport, you’re assumed to be gay by people on the outside, for whatever reason.
“But I think the women…maybe there isn’t the same stigma that goes with it on the women’s side, I don’t know. But women don’t, in my experience, women are very comfortable being who they are and handle it exceptionally well. I think Brittney Griner is just another one of those.”
As for Laimbeer, one of the most honest and outspoken coaches in the WNBA .
““I put together teams of the greatest basketball players I can get my hands on. This is basketball. This is what this is. I want ballers that show up on the floor and come with hard?nosed players and take no mercy and expect no mercy.
“In terms of the men’s game, well, times change. They always evolve and move on. In the women’s sport, it’s never been any big deal. It is what it is and everybody plays basketball. The men are a bit different. This is the first time coming around. It was going to happen sooner or later. People say this is who I am.
“So in five years from now [sexual prejudice] will be nothing. It’s just the way it all evolves. I think it’s going to happen in the NBA to some degree. The marketing there is very large and huge, so I think some players still may feel a little inhibited, but it will come around.”