In the closing minutes of a huge news day — April 18, the day of the Mueller report’s release — the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill issued a press release concerning another report: the findings of a law firm’s review of players’ complaints against UNC women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell.
But while the Mueller report was “lightly redacted,” the UNC report has been entirely blacked out. The university is withholding it on grounds that it concerns a personnel matter. But state law allows for the release of information on personnel matters when it “is essential to maintaining the integrity” of a department.
The university should release the full report and let the public judge whether it acted with integrity in forcing the departure of a Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach who had led the women’s basketball program for 33 years. Instead, the public is left with the North Carolina equivalent of a William Barr summary. Even Hatchell has not been shown the report.
The UNC press release, issued at 11:57 p.m., cited three findings by the law firm based on 28 interviews of current players and personnel connected to the women’s basketball program. The findings were that Hatchell had made racially insensitive remarks, pressured players to play despite injuries and that there had been ”a breakdown of connectivity” between the coach and her team.
The claims against Hatchell, 67, were first reported by The Washington Post in stories based on interviews with players and their parents, many of them quoted anonymously. Just days before the first Post story, the university announced that Hatchell and her staff had been suspended and the Charlotte-based firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein had been hired to review players’ complaints about Hatchell and the program. It’s unclear whether questions from the newspaper prompted the review.
Hatchell’s lawyer, the prominent Raleigh attorney and UNC-CH alumnus Wade Smith, said there has been an outpouring of support for the coach from what he called “the Hatchell nation.” He said she is “absolutely devastated” by the claims against her and has been unfairly painted as a racist based on misconstrued comments. “The world out there that doesn’t know her will perhaps remember her as a racist and she is not. I would like the university to write that on the blackboard 1,000 times — she is not a racist.”
What little has been revealed about Hatchell’s comments suggests she made a poor choice of words in a post-game talk to players, but over the course of her long career there appears to be no evidence of racial bias in her conduct. That the university has done little to clarify the basis of that charge is shoddy treatment for a coach who gave many years to UNC. Whether releasing the report would help or hurt Hatchell regarding the race-related claims isn’t known to the public, but it seems an instance in which more information is better than less.
Much easier to assess is the claim that Hatchell pressured players to play despite serious knee or shoulder injuries and a concussion. If true, the fault would go beyond the coach. Players being put at risk of extreme pain and long-term impairment should be prevented by the team doctor, trainers, assistant coaches, athletic department administrators and strong university policies. UNC athletics officials are putting the blame solely on Hatchell and acting as if the protection of players’ health has been restored with her departure. The team doctor who was cited by players’ complaints is keeping his job. Did the trainers and doctor speak up or go along with Hatchell? We don’t know, but we should.
It’s noteworthy that the university’s acting chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, is a neuroscientist and expert on sports-related concussions. He should not be condoning the withholding of a report that focuses on how UNC protected the health of its athletes.