Friday, March 9, 2007
Say It Ain't So, Pokey!
Pokey Chatman, the coach of the LSU women’s basketball team, resigned abruptly yesterday amid rumors that the reason for this surprising turn of events is an “inappropriate” relationship with one of the players on her team. Though the reports of this relationship are unconfirmed as yet, it is difficult to imagine many other reasons for a young successful rising star African-American coach with a team ranked in the top 10 to leave suddenly for “other career opportunities.” I mean, she isn’t even going to see them through the tournament. She is gone now – right before the brackets are announced. This does not look good.
If true, this situation is tragic from so many different perspectives, it’s difficult to know where to begin. First, I want to be clear: I believe that coach-athlete romantic/sexual relationships are never appropriate and are never to be condoned. If that is what happened here, then I believe Pokey made the right decision by resigning. I would feel this way regardless of the genders or sexual orientations of the people involved. It just isn’t right.
Part of the tragedy is that a woman coach resigning because of a sexual relationship with one of her woman players provides ammunition to people who believe that lesbians are a threat to other women and the reputation of women’s sports in general: “See, we told you: They (lesbians) are not to be trusted in coaching positions.”
When most lesbian coaches are completely closeted, any news story about lesbian relationships in sport takes on added significance and feeds the unsavory stereotypes about lesbian coaches. Never mind that men coaching women also become sexually involved with female players on their teams and it is just as unethical. When this happens though, the actions of one man are not automatically generalized to the entire population of male coaches.
This is what I fear will happen as a result of the LSU situation. Presumed lesbian coaches everywhere will be suspect and seen as potential threats to their players. Parents and high school recruits who want to avoid lesbian coaches will have their prejudice confirmed. Unethical college coaches who negatively recruit based on sexual orientation will have a more attentive audience. It is a tragedy for everyone when fear and stereotypes of any group guide decisions about where to attend college or play ball.
Of course, there are lesbians coaching Division 1 basketball teams. Even though they are closeted, everyone knows they are there. Most of them are ethical, mature and hard-wired to avoid ever even giving the appearance of “inappropriate” interest in their players. They know the stereotypes all to well and are probably more careful with their relationships with players as a result. When I was coaching, it sent cold chills down my spine to think of any physical contact or relationship with members of my team being misinterpreted or being accused of having a sexual relationship with any of my athletes.
That is one of the many tragedies of homophobia in women’s sports. We do not get to appreciate the many positive contributions of lesbian coaches because they do it all from the closet. One high profile serious lapse in judgment (if the rumors about Pokey Chatman are true) casts a dark shadow over all lesbian coaches and makes it less likely that any of them will consider coming out anytime soon as a result.
This is a tragedy for Pokey, her team, women’s basketball and lesbian coaches everywhere. It is also a tragedy because we are losing one of the few African-American women coaches in Division 1 women’s basketball. This is a sad day all around. Pokey, please say it ain’t so.