Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Coaches Behaving Badly

Does it seem to anyone else that there have been a lot of college coaches in trouble or resigning this spring because of allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment of women athletes?

In March, Louisiana State University women’s basketball coach Pokey Chatman resigned amid allegations that she had a sexual relationship with a player while the player was on her team. In April, charges of sexual harassment first leveled against University of North Carolina legendary women’s soccer coach, Anson Dorrance in 1998, resurfaced when federal judges ruled that the allegations seem to be supported. In May, Boston College women’s ice hockey coach, Tom Mutch, resigned amid allegations that he was in a sexual relationships with a player on his team. Also in May, University of Georgia women’s golf coach, Todd McCorkle, resigned after a university investigation into charges that he repeatedly made sexual comments to team members and apparently showed them a Paris Hilton sex tape. You can’t make this stuff up.

Mutch and McCorkle are both married to former athletes on teams they coached. It is unclear when these relationships began but it does raise the suspicion that these coaches have a history of unclear professional boundaries in terms of their relationships with athletes on their teams. Media reports of court records of the allegations against Anson Dorrance claim that he repeatedly inquired about team members’ sex lives, asked who on the team was lesbian, speculated about the size of a boyfriend’s genitalia and used the F-word liberally in these comments. Dorrance apologized, called his comments “sexual banter of a jesting or teasing nature.” Yeah, right. Just light-hearted sexual harassment between a coach and his athletes. Call me a prude, but this is not funny or light-hearted stuff.

I worry that these are only the stories that make it into the public discourse. My fear is that there are many incidents of coaches abusing their positions of authority by engaging in sex with or sexually harassing women athletes that we never hear about either because athletes are afraid to speak up or because athletic departments have covered the situation up. In the cases of Chatman, Mutch, and McCorkle, the athletic directors and the coaches in question tried to skate by at first with claims that the coaches were merely leaving to pursue other career interests. Right, like we believed that. Each team was in the midst of or had just concluded a successful season. When that explanation didn’t fly, The ADs had to reveal the real reasons for the coaches’ resignations. This kind of dishonesty only makes everything worse.

Add these allegations to the stories of simulated sex, sexual humiliation and homophobia that are staple parts of athletic team hazing practices for men’s and women’s teams. Then mix in the stories of college athletic programs using attractive female “hostesses” and visits to strip clubs to entice male high school athletes during campus visits as part of the recruiting process. What do you have? Some pretty serious problems that athletic departments need to address.

Every college and high school athletic department should have written policies about sexual conduct, sexual harassment, team hazing and athlete recruitment that make it clear that these kinds of egregious violations of coaching ethics will not be tolerated. Coaches and all other athletic staff should know their responsibilities and the consequences for not living up to them. This should be part of new coach orientations. Every parent sending a daughter (or son) to a college athletic program should ask about these policies.

You’d think that coaches would just know that having sex with their athletes and making sexual comments to their athletes is never ok and, in the long run, undermines their ability to coach. I guess we’d be wrong to assume that.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I Get By With Very Little Help From My Friends

I was just reading an article about a talk John Amaechi gave to the Log Cabin Republican group, a gay republican political organization. I won’t even get into how twisted I think it must feel to be a gay republican. We can leave that for another time. What I wanted to talk about is something John said in his talk that really struck me. Here is what John said:

“Probably 30 of my former (NBA) teammates have my e-mail and my telephone contacts and probably 16 or so of those I was in regular touch with and there are probably 10 people who I have (on instant messenger). And zero—nobody—who’s active in the NBA has been in touch with me since the day I came out, despite the fact that most of them knew I was gay in the first place.”

Wow. I’m trying to think about what this means. Is it an indication of the extent of homophobia in the NBA? Was Tim Hardaway speaking for the majority of the league, after all? I mean, these guys were his teammates and, presumably, some were his friends, and not one of them called, texted or emailed?

Former players like Charles Barkley, Doc Rivers and Isiah Thomas did make supportive comments in the press about John’s coming out. So did Shaq and a few other current players. I could even understand players not wanting to talk to the press about this, but it is mind boggling that not one of the players who he has regular contact with got in touch with him.

Maybe since many of them knew about John already, it wasn’t a big deal to them. Maybe they don’t understand that coming out publicly is always a big deal to the person doing it. I’d like to think this was the reason for their silence. I hope their non-response is not an indication of their discomfort, their hostility or their fear. Maybe having John call them out on this will get some of them to contact him now. Better late than never, I guess.

It is always amazing to me that heterosexual male athletes, especially team sport athletes, cultivate this big tough guy image, yet for some of them, the thought of one gay guy in the locker room poses a big threat. Or is it the idea that a gay guy can be as tough and strong as they like to think they are that poses the threat? After all, if a gay guy can be tough and strong or if a woman athlete can be tough and strong, maybe it makes their exclusive right to toughness and strength a little shaky. Maybe that's the biggest threat to heterosexual masculinity, revealing how fragile it is, after all?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Coach-Athlete Sexual Relationships: What’s Good for the Goose Should be Good for the Gander

On April 24, Boston College women’s ice hockey coach, Tom Mutch, resigned amid allegations of a sexual relationship with one of his star players. Mutch is married and he and his wife just had a baby this fall. The situation apparently came to light when the player in question failed to erase some sexually explicit text messages on her cell phone before giving her phone to a teammate.

The similarities between this situation and the one at LSU involving women’s basketball coach Pokey Chatman are striking. Both Chatman and Mutch had incredibly successful careers, taking their teams to the Final Four and the Frozen Four. Both coaches resigned in the wake of allegations of sexual relationships with team members. In Chatman’s case, the allegations are that she was involved with a player who is no longer on the team, but the relationship began when Chatman was an assistant coach and the player was still on the team. The allegations against Mutch are that he is in a sexual relationship with a current star freshman on his team. Both coaches are in their 30’s.

It appears that both schools wanted to try to deal with the situations by having the coaches resign without revealing the actual reasons for the resignations. Both coaches maintained that they were resigning to “pursue other career interests.” In Mutch’s case, BC Athletic Director, Gene DeFilippo, thanked Mutch for his contributions to the women’s ice hockey program and then wished him the best in his “future endeavors.” In both cases, as the allegations against each coach surfaced, neither was available for comment and the ADs at both schools found themselves responding to a whole new set of awkward media questions and, in DeFilippo’s case, backpedaling on his support and praise for Mutch.

The BC incident, so closely following the allegations and resignation at LSU, give us an opportunity to examine the “double standard” in play when the coach is a heterosexual man coaching women and when the coach is a woman coaching women. Though Pokey has never affirmed her sexual orientation publicly, the charges are that a lesbian relationship occurred.

So far, the Boston College situation has been most broadly covered by media in the New England region and in the women’s ice hockey “community.” The Pokey Chatman story was a national story with far broader coverage. Some of this discrepancy could be due to the timing of the resignations (Pokey resigned on the eve of the NCAA tournament while the ice hockey season is over) and the higher visibility of women’s basketball vs. women’s ice hockey.

However, it is my sense that the problem of male coaches becoming romantically involved with female athletes on their teams, though a widespread occurrence, is not treated as seriously as when a lesbian relationship occurs between a coach and an athlete. There are boatloads of male coaches who are married to former female members of their teams. In fact, Mutch’s wife was a former player on one of his teams.
Whether most of these relationships began when the athletes were actively competing is unclear. My sense is that, in most cases, as long as a male coach involved with a female player is not caught in the act (so to speak), and they marry after she graduates, everything is hunky-dory and we get to read cute Valentine’s Day articles about them coaching teams together.

I don’t think we will be reading stories like this about Pokey Chatman and the player she was allegedly involved with or may still be involved with. What we get instead are stories about fears that allegations of lesbian relationships endanger women’s sports and stigmatize all women coaches who cannot produce a husband or boyfriend. Aren’t male coaches who become sexually involved with female athletes also a danger to women’s sports? Why aren’t male coaches of women’s sports worried about being stigmatized?

Maybe the BC situation following the LSU situation so closely will help us think about this: Coaching ethics standards should apply to all coaches, men and women; gay and straight; black and white. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.