Sylvia Hatchell, one of the winningest head coaches in women’s college basketball, resigned Thursday after 33 years at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for allegedly threatening her players with racist remarks and forcing some to play while seriously injured.
A group of six parents and one other person with knowledge of the university’s investigation told The Washington Post earlier this month that Hatchell said her players would be “hanged with nooses in trees” at an upcoming game if they did not improve.
Three players said they felt pressure from Hatchell to play through injuries, the Post reported. One later discovered she needed shoulder surgery, another learned she had torn a tendon in her knee, and a third suspected she had a concussion. The group also told the Post that the coach led her team in a “war chant” to “honor” an assistant coach’s Native American ancestry.
Hatchell and her staff were placed on paid leave earlier this month while the university looked into the matter.
After a more than two-week investigation that included 28 interviews, a UNC official said in a statement that the school “found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” according to the Greensboro News & Record.
“It is in the best interests of our University and student-athletes for us to do so,’’ Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham continued in the statement. “Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”
The university’s investigation determined that Hatchell had made “racially insensitive” remarks, and that she wielded “undue influence” in players’ medical decisions. While the parents who spoke to the Post differed on Hatchell’s exact wording, they insisted their daughters heard her say “noose” and “tree.”
Cunningham continued: “We appreciate her 33 years of service to Carolina and to the community, and we wish her the best. Our focus now is on conducting a search for a new head coach who will build on our great Carolina traditions and promote a culture of excellence.”
Hatchell’s attorney, Wade Smith, said in a statement to the Post that “Coach Hatchell has always cared deeply for her players, and their well-being is extremely important to her. And, to repeat, she does not have a racist bone in her body.” He previously told the paper that his client did not use the word “noose” and that she was talking about the players being “hung out to dry.”
In a statement to CNN, Hatchell said she is grateful for having had her “dream job.”
“Now, I will turn my attention to supporting the University in different ways. I will continue to raise money for the Lineberger Cancer Center, to establish a ministry of exercise and recovery for cancer patients and to push for equal facilities and treatment for women’s athletics,” Hatchell said.