Hall of Fame University of North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was under investigation after players and their parents claimed she used racially insensitive language. UNC announced that it was putting Hatchell, who is white, and three of her assistants on administrative leave pending their findings.
Among some of the more inflammatory allegations were that Hatchell threatened her players, most of whom are African-American, with being lynched during a game against a historically Black college. According to several parents interviewed by the Washington Post, Hatchell’s lynching comments occurred this past season after a game against Howard University this past December. UNC beat Howard 85-63, but Hatchell was reportedly not happy with how her team played.
One parent told the Washington Post that the coach told her players:
“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.”
Though the parents and players differed in the exact wording, they all agreed that the words “noose” and tree” were used, the Post wrote.
Prior to this incident, players reported that after a 2017-2018 season game, Hatchell told them in the locker room that she couldn’t win the championship with a “bunch of old mules.” They also claimed in a separate instance Hatchell wanted them to participate in a “war chant” similar to the “tomahawk chop” to honor the partial Native American heritage of an assistant coach.
“There is not a racist bone in her body,” Hatchell’s attorney, Wade Smith, told the Post on Thursday. “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.”
In addition to reportedly saying racist comments, Hatchell is also being investigated for allegedly making players participate in games despite having serious injuries. Parents of former player Emily Sullivan said their daughter was forced to play for almost two whole seasons with a torn labrum after the coach and medical staff told her it was just a dislocated shoulder and discouraged her from having surgery.
Hatchell released a statement on Monday where she said she would cooperate with the investigation.
“I’ve had the privilege of coaching more than 200 young women during my 44 years in basketball,” Hatchell said. “My goal has always been to help them become the very best people they can be, on the basketball court and in life. I love each and every one of the players I’ve coached and would do anything to encourage and support them. They are like family to me. I love them all. Of course, I will cooperate fully in this review. I look forward to a prompt conclusion of this matter and the continuation of our very successful women’s basketball program.”
UNC also released a statement on Monday where they doubled down on their commitment to their athletes:
“Carolina is committed to the well-being of our student-athletes and to ensuring that they have the best experience possible in and outside of competition,” the statement read.
The Hatchell scandal is the latest in several incidents at UNC that has forced the university to confront race. In August 2018, activists pulled down the “Silent Sam” statue as a part of a movement to remove Confederate monuments in the south. Over the weekend, a monument to honor the people of color who helped build the campus was defaced with racist graffiti.