Jeff Jacobs: Baylor coach Kim Mulkey's COVID comments ignorant and dangerous

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Baylor coach Kim Mulkey reacts during Monday's game against UConn in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey reacts during Monday’s game against UConn in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.

Carmen Mandato / Getty Images

After DiJonai Carrington was fouled — and she was fouled — in the closing seconds of a great women’s college basketball game, social media went wild.

… Look at the video! Look at that still photo! What more proof do you need, the Zapruder film? LeBron James, who never cried about a call in his life (insert sarcasm emoji), tweeted it was a foul. Even Swin Cash, our own Swintayla from McKeesport, said it was …

Well, IF it was a foul, Baylor got away with far more non-calls during the game. Hammering Paige Bueckers and all. You would have thought the NCAA let one of those old Pittsburgh Big East men’s teams play in the women’s national tournament. Brutes …

Yep, this entirely civilized, unbiased discussion was going to go on unfiltered and mostly anonymous. Mix in a few dollops of national hate for Geno Auriemma and UConn. Factor in the coverage from the mainstream media, and this had the makings of some all-time screeds. Nothing was going to top it.

That’s when Kim Mulkey, in Twitter parlance, went “Hold my mask.”

And no, this has nothing to do with Mulkey holding up her iPhone and saying she had both still photograph and video poof of one UConn player hitting Carrington in the face and another on the elbow.

What came out of the Baylor coach’s mouth at the postgame news conference following UConn’s 69-67 Elite Eight victory was not only stupid, it was dangerous.

Unprompted, Mulkey said: “After the games today and tomorrow, there’s four teams left, I think, on the men’s side and the women’s side. They need to dump the COVID testing. Wouldn’t it be a shame to keep COVID testing and then you got kids that test positive or something and they don’t get to play in the Final Four? So you just need to forget the COVID tests and get the four teams playing in each Final Four and go battle it out.”

Whoa! Whaaaaat?

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey talks to her players during Monday's game against UConn in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey talks to her players during Monday’s game against UConn in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.

Morry Gash / Associated Press

Stop the train. Blow the whistle. Get Dr. Fauci on the phone. Stat!

Although the VCU men had to forfeit their first-round tournament game to Oregon because of positive tests, there have been few other cases in Indianapolis and San Antonio. Great. The stern protocols are working. Keep it that way through the national championship games.

Mulkey’s call to stop the tests, risk a COVID-positive athlete playing this weekend and infecting others is insanity. The thrill of playing in a Final Four game is undeniable, but potentially burying your teammate’s grandma is unthinkable. Texas has prematurely lifted the mandatory use of masks and opened all businesses, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic has ended. Not by a long shot.

The young players are probably strong enough, healthy enough to beat COVID, but some of the older, less healthy folks they will come in contact may not be.

You would think Mulkey, who got COVID at Christmastime, would know better. Evidently not. Nor did Auriemma’s more recent positive jar her. Mulkey was right about one thing when she said “not that my words will matter.” The good news is there is zero indication the NCAA will stop testing before the end of the Final Four.

In January, when she returned to coaching, Mulkey had offered reasonable and pointed perspective when asked if she was worried if the season might get called off because of the pandemic.

“The answer is this: The season will continue on. It’s called the almighty dollar,” Mulkey said. “The NCAA has to have the almighty dollar from the men’s tournament. The almighty dollar is more important than the health and welfare of me, the players or anybody else.

“One conference does this. One conference does that. The CDC says this. Everybody is confused. I’m confused. I’m uncomfortable coaching. I understand, COVID is real. I’ve had it. Come talk to me sometime. But I don’t know ... all the calls and procedures, that’s gonna go on and make it unusual, uncomfortable for every program.”

So what happened? Why the change of heart? At her most prominent moment of the season, Mulkey played right into the almighty dollar. I want to write it off as the emotion of the moment. Any coach would be emotional about the third-quarter injury to DiDi Richards, which changed the complexion of the game. Any coach would be emotional by the Carrington non-call against either Aaliyah Edwards or Olivia Nelson-Ododa.

Since the time she was a point guard at Louisiana Tech, Mulkey has been fearless. She’s passionate. That’s part of what makes her a great coach. Mulkey called me out at a news conference at the XL Center in 2013 after I criticized her for not wanting to play nonconference games after New Year’s. Good for her. She’s not afraid to make a stand. It’s admirable. Yet postgame emotion and real life are not always one and the same.

While so many other teams were taking their stand against what Donald Trump stood for, Mulkey marched her players right into the White House after their 2019 championship.

Mulkey essentially encouraged Brittney Griner to remain in the closet while at Baylor. In her autobiography, Griner wrote: “She basically did that whole thing people do when they’re trying to seem cool with (being gay) but don’t really know how to talk about it. I would love to be an ambassador for Baylor, to show my school pride, but it’s hard to do that ... no matter how much support I felt as a basketball player at Baylor, it still doesn’t erase all the pain I felt there.”

In 2017, after a school coverup when many Baylor football players were accused of sexual assault, Mulkey took a stand against the university’s critics: “If somebody is around you and they ever say, ‘I will never send my daughter to Baylor,’ you knock them right in the face.” She later apologized for hitting someone in the face part.

So I’m left somewhat baffled by Mulkey. But her postgame remark on Monday night? That was ignorant and dangerous.

The Sweet 16 game between Bueckers and Caitlin Clark on Saturday on ABC (excuse me, UConn and Iowa) had been hyped beyond belief. It paid off. The game drew lots of eyeballs. Yet it struck me as a little forced. There was unnecessary pressure placed on two freshmen. It was the first time Bueckers actually looked nervous. Color me unsurprised that Williams, who once had been the No. 1 high school player in the nation and had to be highly motivated, turned out to be the MVP of the game. She guarded Clark. She outscored Paige. There had to be some hyper-critical male basketball fans, always eager to knock the game, who walked away less than overwhelmed.

Not Monday night. This was a classic basketball game by any standard, men, women or Bugs Bunny animation. Terrific individual performances. Terrific runs by both teams. A costly injury to Richards. Missed free throws in the clutch. A controversial call at the end. All the dramatic elements of an unforgettable night to grow the game and be argued for years.

And then Kim Mulkey, in Twitter parlance, said “Hold my mask.”

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123