Column: What exactly did Baylor’s White House trip accomplish?

Photo Credit: Kevin Dietsch/UPI

The short answer is nothing. But for the sake of this column, we will go with a bit of a longer one. Let’s give it 700 words or so.

Baylor defeated Notre Dame earlier in April to win the 2019 national championship. It is the third national title that the Bears have won in the Kim Mulkey era.

Previously, Mulkey and her Baylor Bears were recognized by President George W. Bush – a Texan himself – as well as President Barack Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue after national title wins.

And yes, it is the first major occurrence of a women’s team being recognized for a national championship for the first time since January 20, 2017 – when the current president was inaugurated. And they were treated to a menu that looks like someone spent a little bit too much time off a roadside exit on Interstate 95 in Virginia en route to Washington, D.C.

And while we all have no problems indulging in a bit of fast food from time to time, it is another thing when it becomes the flagship culinary items offered on the menu of the White House.

At least when it comes to White House visits, they are equal opportunity “you want fries with that”-ers. McDonald’s, Burger King, Chick Fil A, Wendy’s, etc. were also on the offering for the Clemson football team when Dabo Swinney and some of his players visited the nation’s highest office after winning the national championship in its sport.

By the way, Tony Bennett and his Virginia Cavaliers also won a national championship about 24 hours after Mulkey’s Bears claimed women’s college basketball’s top prize in Tampa. Bennett stated flatly that his team would not be visiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue despite Washington, D.C. being only a hop, skip, and a jump from Charlottesville.

Heck…some of the Washington, D.C. radio band may be audible within the University of Virginia campus. That is how close Charlottesville is to the District.

But the main premise here is that one has to wonder if Mulkey’s visiting of the White House was a “one step forward, two steps back” moment for women’s college sports. On most occasions, we want to separate a president from a president’s beliefs and values when making a decision to make that visit to the White House. After all…it is the White House. The chance to interactive with and rub shoulders with the president of the United States – whether that president is a Democrat or a Republican – is something one will remember for the rest of their lives.

But it is very difficult to separate this president from his beliefs since his beliefs are such a big part of the reason for his ascent. After all, he picked a man to lead the Federal Reserve in Stephen Moore, who – according to CNN – essentially quipped that women should be kept out of men’s sports, unless…they’re sexy.

He remarked that women can only participate in men’s sports if they “look like Bonnie Bernstein,” said it had to be a requirement for her to wear a halter top, ripped Bernstein herself for supposedly knowing “nothing” about basketball, and thought it was cute to say if she were president, she’d be “Babe-raham Lincoln.”

By the way, she herself had some choice words for Mr. Moore.

Moore wrote that basketball it spoke to the “feminization” of basketball in a 2002 column he wrote for the National Review and said he never met anyone who liked women’s basketball.

Well, if that was the case, when UConn faced off against Louisville this past season at the KFC Yum! Center, why did over 17,000 pack the place to watch their Cardinals defeat the Huskies 78-69? If that were the case, why was this year’s national title game between Baylor and Notre Dame played in front of a sellout crowd at Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

That is what Mulkey – the same Mulkey who vociferously dismissed the horrors of the women victims in the Baylor rape scandal – recognized by going to the White House. And from the looks of her players, they wanted little to no parts of it.

Kalani Brown and Chloe Jackson are good, though. They are about to bid adieu to Baylor and its culture and head for the greener pastures of the WNBA. Also, Lauren Cox will likely be a top draft pick in the 2020 draft despite that horrific injury she sustained in the national title game with the Fighting Irish.

It must also be mentioned that the conservative culture of that area and Baylor’s status as a Christian school is probably a major reason why they were recognized by the current White House – and why other women’s champions – including South Carolina’s and Notre Dame’s national title winning teams and the 2017 Minnesota Lynx and last year’s Seattle Storm were not.

Sue Bird said herself that the Storm would have declined an invite even if 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue sent one in the mail.

It has also been mentioned that the reason why Baylor’s players went through with it anyway was to avoid any backlash that could have happened if they declined. Seattle, the Twin Cities, Columbia, and South Bend (where 2020 presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg is from) are all Democratic areas. Waco, Texas is not.

Baylor’s colors may be green and gold, but politically, the only color that area knows is red. McLennan County – where Waco and Baylor University are located voted for the current president 61-34 in 2016. Even in last year’s midterm election, that almost resulted in a Senate seat for Beto O’Rourke – another 2020 White House hopeful, McLennan County voted 61-38 for his opponent, Ted Cruz.

That’s not exactly Travis County (Austin) that went 74-27 blue, El Paso that went 74-25 blue, Dallas that went 66-33 blue, Bexar County (San Antonio) that went 60-40 blue, or Harris County (Houston) that went 58-41 blue.

But, regardless of the backlash, it was problematic for all sorts of reasons. From putting the players in an uncomfortable position, to remembering other problematic things Mulkey has done, to making it look like the only reason Baylor got recognized is because they’re a Christian school from a dark red area of a light red state.

Arguably, the biggest reason why it is a bad look is because it once again connects Baylor with a culture that was pilloried throughout the height of the rape scandal, particularly given how the current president has joked about the serious subject in the past. It also is in stark contrast with what Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw’s now famous remarks in a press conference during the tournament addressing inequality in sports and in life.

Mulkey’s defense is that she tried to be apolitical. But it is impossible to separate politics from this White House. Perhaps, someone at Baylor should have watched McGraw’s press conference, looped it a few times, and rethought the idea of if visiting 1600 was a good idea.

And while they did visit other places in Washington, D.C. it can be argued that the visit may have raised more eyebrows than calmed more nerves.

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