University Women’s Basketball Coach Face Allegations of Racism

The coach of the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) women’s basketball team is under investigation for reportedly making racist remarks. The comments allegedly followed the team’s win against Howard University, a historically Black university.

Sylvia Hatchell and her staff were placed on administrative leave as the university’s athletic department investigates “issues raised by student-athletes and others,” The Washington Post reported. Six of the players' parents spoke anonymously to the publication, claiming the head coach suggested that if team members played poorly, they would be “hanged from trees with nooses.”

Hatchell was also accused of trying to get her players to cite a “war chant” to “honor” Native American ancestry of an assistant coach, the parents told The Post. The parents also alleged that Hatchell complained the players performed like “old mules” during a game against Georgia Tech, which caused one player to cry, The New York Times reported. Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, told the Post that the comments about the “noose” were taken out of context.

“She said, ‘They’re going to take a rope and string us up, and hang us out to dry,’” Smith told the publication. “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.”

The parents also alleged that Hatchell would force players to play despite serious injuries. The parents of UNC player Emily Sullivan said she dislocated her shoulder during a rebound in December 2016, The Washington Post reported. Team physician Dr. Harry Stafford told Sullivan and her parents she could play with cortisone shots to help the pain; while Stafford claimed that he told Hatchell that Sullivan couldn’t play, Deadspin reported that "Hatchell and...Stafford are accused of delaying an MRI on the injured shoulder... and then downplaying the injury’s severity for almost two years.” Sullivan continued to play and her shoulder continued to dislocate. Hatchell discouraged Sullivan to get surgery, but two doctors told her she had a torn labrum from 2016, according to the outlet.

Kennedy Boyd, another player, suffered a concussion during an exhibition game, The Washington Post reported. After missing a few weeks of practice, Hatchell asked Boyd “if she’d had a concussion or if she had brain damage.” Hatchell allegedly told Boyd’s parents that doctors had told her she had a concussion after a car accident a few years ago but did not believe them.

“The University of North Carolina is committed to the well-being of our student-athletes and to ensuring they have the best experience possible in and outside of competition. Due to issues raised by student-athletes and others, the University has initiated a review of our women’s basketball program,” an April 1 statement from UNC read. “The Charlotte-based firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein will conduct the review and assess the culture of the women’s basketball program and the experience of our student-athletes. The women’s basketball coaching staff has been placed on administrative leave while the review takes place.”

The university said it is unclear how long the review will last, but noted that the review would be “thorough and prompt.”

Stephen Graves, assistant professor in the department of Black Studies and the director of undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri, told The North Star that these incidents are not new in college sports. Graves said there needs to be a conversation about eliminating such problems, which occur to Black basketball players and Black people in the workforce more generally.

“Coaches are in control of these students’ lives and careers,” Graves said. “Black players need these opportunities to fund their families and their careers.” Hatchell is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, according to the university’s athletic’s website. She has more than 1,000 career wins; while coaching at the University of North Carolina, the Tar Heels have won a national championship, eight ACC titles, and compiled six 30-win seasons.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.