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.


calugg said...

Not only have I heard stories about "locker room" crappola flowing from athetlic departments, I've seen this in major science labs at academic institutions.

I think in both instances the larger culture demeans all women and gay men. Consequently, in an environment that has been historically sexist and homophobic, all sorts of crap gets played out--because it's "natural."

Until someone gets sued--and then the university wakes up to major financial damages (see Rene Portland and Penn State).

Anonymous said...

what about coaches who date their athletes who are above the "age of consent"? Is that OK? I had this discussion just a few days ago as the 40-yr old male coach at my club is dating a female athlete in her early 20's. they think they're keeping it a secret but it one of those things everybody knows but doesn't talk about. The girl isn't my friend, she's obviously an adult ,I don't really know her but for some reason it bugs me that the coach is sleeping with her as isnt that an abuse of power? Maybe it bothers me because the coach is always preching integrity, living your values and i always respected him for being so professional. Id appreciate hearing your opinion on this and anyone else who want to weigh in.

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