UNC women's coach resigns over 'racially insensitive' remarks

Sylvia Hatchell didn't immediately address claims

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Sylvia Hatchell

(CNN) - University of North Carolina's longtime head women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell has resigned after a university-commissioned review found she made "racially insensitive" comments, the school's athletics director and other officials announced.

Hatchell also wielded "undue influence" regarding player's medical issues and pressured them to play, frustrating -- but not swaying -- the team's medical staff, according to a statement Thursday from the university that cited the review by Charlotte-based law firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein.

Hatchell, among the winningest coaches in women's college basketball history, this season allegedly suggested her players would be "hanged from trees with nooses" if they didn't improve their play, The Washington Post has reported, citing interviews with seven people with knowledge of the investigation.

Hatchell's attorney, Wade Smith, told the Post his client said she would never use the word "noose," and that her comment had been about being "hung out to dry."

Hatchell did not immediately address the review's claims directly. She said in a university-issued statement about her resignation that she is grateful for the "dream job" she landed 33 years ago.

"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," she said.

Smith told CNN early this month that Hatchell "has devoted her entire life to advancing the careers of young female athletes."

"She demands excellence and sometimes may be tough on her players, but she doesn't have a racist bone in her body. She would not insist that her players play through pain or injury and depends on team doctors to clear them for competition. She dearly loves all the young women she has coached and so many of them have reached out to support her this week," he said on April 5. "We must not suddenly assume the worst about people who have lived exemplary lives."

Coach allegedly told players they'd be 'hanged from trees'

UNC announced April 1 that it had put Hatchell on leave and commissioned the review by Parker Poe, based on information from student-athletes and others. The firm interviewed 28 current players and personnel connected to the women's basketball program and also found "a breakdown of connectivity between the players and Hatchell."

The findings "led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction," Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said Thursday. "Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it."

Of the seven people interviewed by The Washington Post, six were parents of current players, the newspaper said, who spoke anonymously because they feared their daughters would face retribution.

Hatchell made the "noose" comment after a December 28 game against historically black Howard University, the report states, citing the six parents who spoke to their daughters about the incident.

Despite her team's victory, Hatchell was displeased with the team's performance and made the comment in the locker room afterward in reference to an upcoming January 3 game at the University of Louisville, according to the report.

One mother said Hatchell told the 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."

A father recalled the comment as, "We're going up to Louisville. Those people are going to be waiting with nooses to hang you from trees."

While the parents differed on the exact wording of Hatchell's statement, they were unanimous in saying their daughters heard the words "noose" and "tree."

Smith's spokeswoman offered a different version of what Hatchell said as she tried to get her players ready for tough ACC conference play.

Hatchell told the team, "In the ACC, they are going to come after you with reckless abandon. They are going (to) string you up and hang you out to dry," the attorney's spokeswoman, Joyce Fitzpatrick, said.

The January 3 Louisville game was UNC's first ACC contest of the season.

The parents also alleged Hatchell, after a different loss, said the team had played like "old mules," and that some people took that as a reference to female slaves, The New York Times reported, citing a person familiar with the situation.

Smith told the Times that Hatchell did not recall making any statements about "old mules."

Hatchell also was accused, according to the Post, of trying to get players to "engage in a 'war chant' to 'honor' the Native American ancestry of an assistant coach," who was "visibly uncomfortable," according to two parents who had learned about the incident from their daughters.

Smith told the Post on April 4 that the "comments attributed to her by parents of players are incorrect and misconstrued," the paper wrote.

Hatchell allegedly discouraged surgery

Hatchell's alleged remarks were discussed in late March at a meeting between parents and university administrators, the Post reported.

At that meeting, parents voiced their concerns about cases in which three players said they felt pressured by Hatchell to play through injuries.

One player, the report says, eventually learned she needed corrective shoulder surgery, and another learned she had a torn tendon in her knee. A third player reported the coach cast doubt on whether she had suffered a concussion, the report says.

Parents at the meeting "differed on whether the blame for these situations belonged to Hatchell or the team physician," according to the Post.

The report says that Hatchell discouraged a player from getting surgery after she had dislocated her shoulder in December 2016, the player's parents said at that meeting. Two outside doctors later determined she needed the surgery.

Hatchell allegedly pressured another player, who had a torn tendon in her knee, to keep working out and to play in either the ACC or the NCAA tournaments despite her pain, because WNBA scouts would "want to see if she can play through pain," parents with knowledge of the situation told the Post.

Another doctor later said the injury wouldn't require surgery, but the player would need eight weeks of rest.

Smith told the Post that Hatchell didn't recall the allegations about pressuring injured players to return to play and said she never would have tried to convince anyone to play whom the medical staff had not cleared, the newspaper reported.

Hatchell won more than 1,000 games in 44 years

Hatchell, a 2013 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, won one NCAA championship (1994) and made two other Final Four appearances (2006 and 2007) since becoming UNC coach in 1986. She also coached 11 seasons at Francis Marion University.

She had a 751-325 record at North Carolina and more than wins 1,000 across her entire head coaching career.

CNN's Dakin Andone and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.

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