When Sheila Lambert came to Baylor back in 2000 along with head coach Kim Mulkey, the program wasn't nearly as prominent on the national landscape as it is now.
Lambert went on to become the best player in Baylor's history to that point well before Brittney Griner came along and was eventually drafted No. 7 in the 2002 WNBA draft. In short, Lambert was one of the key figures who helped build the foundation for today’s Baylor program alongside Mulkey.
So when Lambert heard about ESPN’s Outside the Lines story about Brittney Griner and Kim Mulkey, her reaction was anger and disgust.
“It’s years that I would never forget; I wouldn’t trade them in for the world. Coach Mulkey is an outstanding, not just a coach, but an outstanding person. It’s so crazy to hear what is being said about her right now -- it blew my mind. I would never in a million years think that or even a little bit, Coach Mulkey would never…ever…EVER -- you know what I’m saying? I know her, I know what type of person she is and I know that she treats her players as if they’re her only children.
"She always wanted us to be the best person that you could be as a young lady, and then basketball comes second. All she worried about (was) you going to class and you making those grades and you performing on the court. NOT ONCE since I’ve know Coach Kim, not once has she asked me about my personal life, about my sexuality, about anything that has anything to do with my personal life - coach Kim didn’t care. You were there to graduate college and she would tell you that.
"When I left in 2002, when I got drafted, she called me and touched base with me every month for four years telling me to come back and finish school. She didn’t have to -- for four years until I went back and finished, she didn’t leave me alone. ‘You need to come back, and you need to finish school -- that is the ultimate goal, we are going to get you a degree.’ I’m pissed first and foremost because I know what type of person Coach Mulkey is, she treats you as if you are her child. She wanted everybody to see that person for who they are, not for what they choose to do in their (personal) life. The craziest thing (about all of this) is that she doesn’t even speak on that! It hurts my heart…it hurts my heart that somebody can reach out and bash her. Whatever issues that may be going on, that is a great woman!"
In response to ESPN’s latest feature, Lambert and other ex-Baylor players were adamant about sharing another perspective to this story since it was not represented in the original piece. Swish Appeal had the opportunity to speak with a couple other former Baylor players and this is their perspective in their own words:
“Ok, so after seeing, reading and hearing about Baylor University and Griner these past couple of days, my anger and frustration has turned into down right... PAIN. Pain knowing a woman who has done NOTHING but try her hardest to love and protect her 'cubs' from the media, from the public, from the fans, from the lovers, from the HATERS, and to end up being hurt by the accusations by a former player.
“My issue is I was teammates with Emily (Nkosi) for a year, and I have not seen or heard from her in eight years. And they had to (reach out to her) because if they reached out to any other Baylor players, we all over the country, we aren’t going to back that. And I’ve talked to at least 10 to 20 of them today -- we all feel (angry) about [this report].
“Baylor was everything to me; it’s crazy because I support (them) so much. Coach Mulkey -- I was there for four years, and I saw nothing but (her) fight for us. When Griner punched that girl, Coach Mulkey was like, ‘Media, you better not say anything, and you let me handle her because that’s not your child.’ And that’s how she treated us, the whole time we were there. She protected us from the media; she protected us from the public."
“In all of my years being around her and being around the program, as a past player and working camps, I’ve never heard her say to anyone that…any type of team meeting, no forum ever -- and I’m a coach and she never ever (has and) would never even discuss sexuality, what you do in your private time, who you date, we never discussed any of those types of things. And I’ve never personally heard or insinuation of, ‘you can’t be who you are, you can’t be yourself…ever.’ And what I’m hearing from other teammates and other people, there was never that pressure put on anyone to be perceived to be something they are not.
"Here’s what I want to say: I’ve watched -- because I’m very close to the program -- I’ve watched people destroy Brittney in the media about her looks, about her voice, about the way she talks, the way she walks -- and I’ve watched Kim lose sleep over defending and making statements and making sure she was respected. In my opinion, she went out of her way to defend her.
“There’s no question, [a person] coming out is not a question. People watching TV are not going, ‘Oh, really, they’re gay?’ They’re going, ‘Oh okay, now onto other news.’ And (Baylor) was not shortsighted as to say, ‘She looks a certain type of way, we’re not going to have that.’ But they are doing that at other institutions -- trust me. I had this conversation less than two weeks ago about another institution, ‘they look a certain type of way, don’t bring them in.’ There’s got to be something going on that we don’t know.
“When I woke up, about 45 minutes into the day, they already had a group of (people) that didn’t even play, just around the program are like…pissed -- because Kim is loyal. What is this about? It has to be about something that happened from the last game up until now. (Griner) wasn’t at the banquet and (she didn’t) graduate. When you are insinuating that a university is less than fair when it comes to who they let attend, I think that’s a little unfair. Because I had a lot of teammates that have come through and everybody was allowed to be who they were."