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.


Anonymous said...

Pat, as you know, I've been in the sports world for decades at many levels -the Olympics, college athletics, high school sports.

Across the board, the affairs I saw happen happened between married men and female athletes.

I find it ironic that single coaches are targeted for suspicion, when I can't name a single non-married coach that I know that was having some kind of affair.

Great job on the blog - you have such a great voice and a great message.

Women's Sports Coverage on MTV Logo

Anonymous said...


Jessie B said...

Of course the gander should get what the goose gets: of course you're right to ask after a double standard.

I wonder here, however, whether the difference in publicity speaks mostly to the difference between the size of the audience for collegiate women's ice hockey and the size of the audience for WCBB. How many people attend the Women's Frozen Four? How many come from national media centers New York and LA? And of course there's no WNHL, though it would be cool if there were.

Glad you're blogging!

Anonymous said...

Glad you are blogging, and as a ten year collegiate women's basketball coach I agree that a double standard exists on the coverage of the two incidents, however I think that you answered your own question on these two specific issues being the timing of the public announcements.
Now for the issue of male coaches and their former players marrying after her graduation. Why not comment on the facts that there are lesbian coaches who are in wonderful committed relationships with former players and we do not know when these relationships started, but there should be stories written how "everything is hunky-dory and we get to read cute Valentine’s Day articles about them coaching teams together."
Now there is a double standard to talk about.

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