With the NCAA Women’s College Basketball Tournament just around the corner, the timing couldn’t be worse for the scandal that has recently erupted around Louisiana State University’s women’s basketball team and their coach, Pokey Chatman. Last week Chatman resigned amid allegations that she had a sexual relationship with a female player on her team, and though the facts of the matter have not yet been confirmed, the scandal has turned the media spotlight on closeted lesbians in women’s sports.
Last Wednesday, Chatman unexpectedly issued a press release stating that she had resigned from her position as head coach of the LSU Tigers in order to pursue "other career opportunities." No one believed her. The speculation was immediate. Was she jumping ship to take an offer elsewhere — perhaps Florida ? Why would she announce her departure before the NCAA tournament beginning next week? Was something else at play?
That something else quickly took center stage as word spread that Chatman had been forced to resign under pressure, and that her downfall had something to do with an "improper" — as in sexual — relationship with a former player. ESPN.com and the New York Times published stories citing an unnamed source who alleged that the university was informed of the situation by someone within the basketball program. Internet message board posts quickly filled with rumors and finger-pointing as well as the inevitable lesbian baiting.
Initially Chatman planned to coach her team in the NCAA tournament, but the ensuing controversy quickly exploded out of control, and she issued a second statement last Thursday announcing that her departure would be immediate: "My resignation yesterday has prompted speculation and rumors that far exceeded my expectations and it is clear that my presence would be a great distraction during the NCAA Tournament."
Chatman was a highly respected — and apparently popular — coach at LSU. A former LSU star player, she became an assistant to the legendary and beloved Sue Gunter in 1994. When Gunter fell ill during the 2003–04 season, Chatman took over and has since guided the team to a 90–14 record and three final-four appearances in the past four years.
She also has a reputation as a great recruiter, a must for success in the higher echelon of women’s college basketball. Just last week she coached her 10th-ranked Tigers to an upset win over No. 4-ranked Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals. LSU eventually lost in the final to a talented Vanderbilt team.
Chatman’s sudden resignation has sent shockwaves through women’s basketball and has raised the specter of the lesbian predator once again. However, the facts surrounding the reason for her resignation remain murky at best. Aside from the unnamed source, there has not yet been any confirmation of the alleged misconduct by LSU officials. And the media feeding frenzy that followed Chatman’s departure has only been made worse by a bungling LSU Athletic Department.
When asked to comment on her resignation, athletic director Skip Bertman said, "The girl [Chatman] did what she did and LSU had no control over that." Using the term "girl" to describe the 37-year-old coach and telling the Times-Picayune that that no formal investigation took place, but that an informal investigation "might have happened," didn’t win Bertman any points for post-crisis management.