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Openness best way to approach relationships between 'rivals'

At the end of the USA Basketball women's training camp Wednesday, national team coach Geno Auriemma had one more brief lesson: giving Seimone Augustus a few tips on how to dance at her wedding.

Augustus, the Lynx standout and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is marrying longtime partner LaTaya Varner on Saturday. Augustus has been open about her relationship, and publicly advocated for same-sex marriage to be legalized in Minnesota, which happened in August 2013.

Now, forgive me for branching off from that sweet, joyful image to a topic that might seem unrelated. But the reason is to establish this overarching theme: the necessity of openness.

That everyone involved in the camp knew about and was celebrating Augustus' impending nuptials might seem like no big deal in 2015. But until fairly recently, that likely wouldn't have been the case.

In the women's basketball world, as in most other places, the "don't ask, don't tell" mentality long existed about same-sex relationships. That has begun to go away and be replaced with more openness, which is even more the case with younger athletes. They've grown up in a world where public opinion on the subject has dramatically shifted.

And even in times when news about a same-sex couple is not pleasant, the fact that the relationship is acknowledged is, in fact, important.

When Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, WNBA players who are engaged to each other, were arrested in April after police were called to their residence because of a fight, their relationship already was well-known. Griner and Johnson had posted pictures of their engagement on Instagram. They'd appeared on the television show, "Say Yes To the Dress," while getting Johnson's wedding gown. So there was no "revelation" about them being a couple.

Everybody knew.

The question some people asked, though, was how the WNBA and its teams dealt with players on opposing teams being in relationships with each other. And that can be a challenging sub-topic to tackle.

In discussions with players and coaches around the league, though, you'll find that it comes down to the basic need for maturity and honesty from all parties.

"Just like any situation on a team -- whether it's a relationship situation or maybe a personality conflict, I think strength in your leadership determines how those things go," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "So I don't find that to be any different than any other personal situation a player might have. To me, it's just in that mix of things you have to manage as a coach and an organization.

"I know how I deal with things: I'm highly communicative. And there's no exceptions to what we would expect from anybody from a professionalism standpoint."

Reeve points out that relationships between people in so-called "rival" businesses happen in all industries. Admittedly, in sports, there's a kind of direct, physical competition that might have the potential to complicate things. But, overall, it's just a part of the human condition.

"It could happen in any corporation," Reeve said. "It's life."

Other coaches and general managers talked about how they find out essentially only what they feel they "need" to know about players' personal lives and how that might affect their contentment with that team.

Sometimes it's all through direct communication, other times through discussions with players who are established team leaders. In all cases, the point is not to unnecessarily probe into players' private business, but simply be aware of any possible conflicts or issues.

"Everyone is expected to be a professional," Minnesota's Maya Moore said. "That's with any job, and the standard is no different with athletes."

"In any job or career, people will cross paths in a lot of different ways sometimes. Just because you're an athlete doesn't mean it's any different. You separate your professional career from your personal life." Diana Taurasi on balancing rivalries and relationships

One WNBA general manager said that players have so many different potential alliances and rivalries that everyone has learned to accept that personal issues simply must be put aside when players take the court.

Players can be teammates in the WNBA, but then be on rival teams overseas or with their national programs. Everybody gets used to respecting the boundaries.

"In any job or career, people will cross paths in a lot of different ways sometimes," Phoenix's Diana Taurasi said. "Just because you're an athlete doesn't mean it's any different. You separate your professional career from your personal life."

While that might sound easier said than done, it's just an accepted standard. And there is nothing new in the WNBA about relationships between players on different teams. What is more noteworthy, as mentioned, in regard to Griner and Johnson is that their relationship was publicly acknowledged.

Even in a situation like this -- where the couple ended up in a situation embarrassing for them, their respective teams and the WNBA -- it actually would be worse if this had been presented as a dispute between "roommates." And that's probably what would have happened not very long ago.

Admittedly, everyone has a different comfort level with how much of their lives they want known publicly, and that's fine. And relationships can be tough to navigate, even with minimal complicating factors.

It would be naïve to suggest it isn't a complicating factor for players on different teams in the same league to be in a relationship. It's something that has to be worked through, even for the most mature couple.

But facing that openly takes away another potential complicating factor: the one that often comes from hiding something.