Sylvia Hatchell is a successful and well-known female basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. But now she’s being investigated for making racist remarks to her team and forcing them to play with injuries.
There are a series of allegations of racist remarks, including Hatchell, a white woman, telling her players they would be “hanged from trees with nooses” if they didn’t improve in future games. Hatchell is also accused of telling her players to do a “war chant” to “honor” the Native American ancestry of an assistant coach.
The “noose” remark happened this season after a game against Howard University, a historically Black institution.
Hatchell’s attorney told the Washington Post Thursday that her comments were misunderstood by parents and players. Hatchell said what she actually told the players was, “They’re going to take a rope and string us up and hang us out to dry.”
The first incident of a racist remark was during the 2017-18 season after a losing game. According to the players, Hatchell said that she should have known she couldn’t win championships with “a bunch of old mules.” The remark was seen as racist and strange.
“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’s attorney told the Post.
The Washington Post interviewed both players and parents of current and past players who accused Hatchell of also forcing players to practice and compete through serious injuries. Hatchell outright said she didn’t remember pressuring injured players to play and that she never would have tried to convince them to play if the medical staff didn’t clear them.
But according to players and their parents, one young woman learned she needed corrective shoulder surgery two years after being pushed to continue playing. Another learned she’d had a torn tendon in her knee for a long time. A third player said Hatchell didn’t believe her when she had a concussion. Parents blamed both Hatchell and a team doctor.
Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham told parents that he ordered Hatchell to apologize to the team for the offensive remarks. She eventually did begrudgingly and after refusing two requests from players, according to parents of the women.
On Monday afternoon, the university said Hatchell and her entire staff was put on paid leave. The university has also hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegations.
Depending on the outcome of the investigations, there could be a large exodus of players from the team. Four of the team’s 14 current players have filed paperwork seeking to transfer and two more are considering it if Hatchell keeps her job.
At a meeting between parents and North Carolina administrators last week, a Black parent, Michael Jones, father of Jocelyn Jones, a sophomore guard, became emotional.
“You mean to tell me my daughter has to go through, in 2019, what I went through in 1985,” Jones said.