If you have not done so already, read what you can about Pokey Chatman’s resignation as head coach of the women’s basketball program at LSU. Chatman was, until she announced her immediate resignation yesterday, the head coach of one of the top programs in the nation, a program that trounced powerhouse Tennessee in the SEC tournament and was expected to go to the Final Four this year. A former LSU player and the protege of Sue Gunter, one of the true greats in women’ basketball, Chatman is considered by many to be the best women’s basketball brain, and the finest recruiter, in the nation.
And now she has resigned to “pursue other career options.” This phrase sets off the homophobia alarm for me: it’s equivalent to the sentence that politicians toss out when they have been defeated for re-election: “I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family.” Uh-huh. Sure.
Actually, the first thing that set off an alarm bell for me was the New York Times reassuring us that Chatman had not “struck” one of her players. So who thought she did? Anyone who has ever seen Chatman on the sideline, as opposed to Pat Summit or that very successful termagent Jody Conradt who coaches at UT-Austin, could pretty much guess that she is the consummate professional. Not that Summit or Conradt do hit their players, but myself, I would stay out of reach during a tight game if I saw that kind of look on my coach’s face. Now allusions to a “relationship” with a former player have begun to appear, something Chatman probably hoped to avoid by resigning, but no dice. Since everyone else is talking in euphemisms, your Dr. Radical will be blunt: she is being fired because she is a lesbian, and she probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near so vulnerable (there are a great many top college basketball coaches who are known to be lesbians, at least one of whom is married to a gay man and whose long-term partner is an assistant on her staff) if she weren’t black. And more precisely, she is not being fired because she is a lesbian, but because now that someone talked, she has now been publicly *named* as a lesbian.
And nobody — but nobody — is standing up for her. Not a single head women’s basketball coach has spoken up for her, not anyone at LSU gay or straight, not a former player. Nobody.
If athletics — the top career choice for real or for fantasy of many lesbians — were not so damn homophobic this wouldn’t be a problem either. Chatman has been regarded as the best recruiter in the nation up until now, but as a heterosexual friend who is a crew coach at a D-I school once explained to me, in the recruiting season, other coaches (some of whom are also lesbians but in the closet) will say to parents some version of the following: “Look, do you want your daughter to play for me or The Lesbian? Because that’s the choice here.” Hence, Renee Portland’s famous edict that no lesbian would ever play for her Penn State roundball squad, was not “just” homophobia. It was a recruiting tactic tacitly or explicitly supported by the athletic department at Penn State, and possibly a smokescreen for hiding some feature of her own private life. And what did Penn State do when a player finally sued for being relentlessly harassed about her sexuality, including being ordered by Portland to “prove” her heterosexuality by dating men or be cut from the squad? They fined Portland (a woman who probably makes between 300k and 400k a year) $10,000. Now there’s someone who should be barred from any contact with the young because she’s dishonest, manipulative and cruel.
That Chatman should even have to consider “other career options” when she is so brilliant at what she does breaks my heart. And you know what? Bobby Knight does hit and physically manhandle his players, is incredibly verbally abusive to them and to everyone around him, and he is still a head coach of a powerful program. According to Slate Knight’s transgressions have included berating cheerleaders and stuffing a fan in a trashcan on national television.
So if she were a violent man, or if she were a demonstrably homophobic woman, Pokey Chatman would still have her job and a bright career in women’s basketball ahead of her. But she’s not: she’s a smart, black lesbian, and she has got to go.
Bonus question of the day: name at least one R-One history department where it is widely known internally and externally that most second wives of male faculty are their former graduate students? For extra bonus points, name the department where tenured faculty in search of a partner are actually told that the department does not frown on choosing a mate — homo or hetero– from the ranks of the graduate students. Not that I think that’s a bad thing! Graduate students need love too! And contrary to popular wisdom, I still believe that men and women in their twenties are capable of consent in relationships with older people. But I am also saying: if Pokey Chatman were a tenured professor at LSU, she would not be looking for other career options today, even though she might be nursing a good case of public embarassment.