Sylvia Hatchell, the University of North Carolina’s Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach, is being investigated by the university after players’ parents accused her of making “racially offensive remarks” and pressuring players with serious injuries to continue playing. Hatchell and her entire coaching staff were suspended by UNC on Monday, accompanied by a vague statement citing the university’s commitment to “the well-being of our student-athletes.”
The allegations come via a Washington Post report, which lays out several specific instances when parents say Hatchell made “bizarre racial comments” to express disappointment with her team. The worst of these involves Hatchell making what sound alarmingly like references to lynching following a victory against Howard University on December 28. Parents reportedly differ on the exact phrasing, but all agree that the message delivered was that the effort her players gave against Howard, a historically black university, would get them hanged in Louisville:
One mother said the comment was, “When you go to Louisville, if you perform like you did tonight, they’re going to have nooses outside the arena, and they’re going to hang you by your necks from trees.” According to one father, he was told Hatchell said, “We’re going up to Louisville. Those people are going to be waiting with nooses to hang you from trees.” The parents were unanimous that their daughters heard the words “noose” and “tree.”
In another instance, after a loss in the 2017-2018 season, Hatchell’s players were troubled when they say she disappointedly referred to them as “a bunch of old mules,” which struck at least some of the players as racially offensive. And in another, deeply excruciating instance, Hatchell allegedly encouraged her players to engage in an Atlanta Braves-style “war chant” in order “to honor the partial Native American ancestry” of assistant coach Tracey Williams-Johnson. Hatchell routed responses to these allegations to the Post via her attorney, Wade Smith; she says she remembers neither the “old mules” comment nor the “war chant” fiasco, and said the “noose” business was “misconstrued.”
“She said, ‘They’re going to take a rope and string us up, and hang us out to dry,’” Smith said.
“There is not a racist bone in her body. . . . A very high percentage of the people who have played for her and who love her are African-American women. She is a terrific coach, and a truly world-class human being.”
Hatchell and the women’s basketball program are also accused of overlooking and downplaying serious injuries in order to pressure players into continuing to compete through pain. Hatchell and team physician Dr. Harry Stafford are accused of delaying an MRI on the injured shoulder of guard Emily Sullivan and then downplaying the injury’s severity for almost two years, in order to keep Sullivan on the court with the aid of cortisone shots. When Sullivan finally sought outside opinions, she learned not only that she’d suffered a torn labrum, but that the comprehensively crab-meated shoulder would require “complete reconstruction.” In another instance, Hatchell is accused of pressuring guard Stephanie Watts to play through knee pain in order to impress WNBA scouts; Watts also learned via an outside second opinion that her injury involved structural damage and would require a full break from basketball activities.
This all reportedly came to light when a large group of parents held a meeting with UNC administrators late last week to discuss their concerns with the program. There’s plenty more in the Post’s report, which notes that four unnamed players have already filed paperwork to transfer out of Hatchell’s program, and another two are waiting to see the result of UNC’s investigation—and specifically whether Hatchell will keep her job— before deciding on their own futures.