North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell is under investigation over allegations she made a series of racially offensive remarks, The Washington Post reported Thursday evening.
Hatchell allegedly told her players they would get “hanged from trees with nooses” at an upcoming game if their performance didn’t improve, the report said.
Late Thursday, Hatchell’s attorney told The News & Observer that Hatchell “absolutely did not use the word ‘lynch’ and she did not use the word ‘noose.’”
The lawyer, Wade Smith, said in a phone interview that Hatchell told him ACC play was about to begin, and she was trying to warn her players that conference play would be tougher than non-conference games.
“She said, ‘they are going to come after us, and hang us out to dry,’ ” Smith said. “There is not a racist bone in her body. She had no idea it would invoke a racist image.”
He said that Hatchell apologizes for using the term “hang.”
The Post story also alleges Hatchell made her players play hurt. The report cites seven people with knowledge of the investigation, including six parents of current players. Smith said Hatchell denied that as well.
“She cannot play an athlete who is not cleared to play by the medical people and that’s the rule she says she follows,” Smith said. “And she follows it strictly.”
The story also alleges she was accused of trying to get her players to engage in a “war chant” to “honor” the Native American ancestry of an assistant coach. Smith said Hatchell was trying to get her players to do the Florida State chop.
The school announced on Monday that Hatchell and three of her assistant coaches had been placed on paid administrative leave over concerns from players and others. The school has hired a Charlotte-based firm to investigate the culture of the program.
Six players have transferred from North Carolina’s program in the last five years and there are currently four more in the NCAA transfer portal, according to a person with access to the system but not authorized to discuss it publicly. They are: Destinee Walker, who entered her name on March 12; Kennedy Boyd and Stephanie Watts, who entered their names on March 25; and Jocelyn Jones, who entered her name on March 27. A fifth, Emily Sullivan, entered her name on Feb. 4 but later withdrew it.
Walker, who announced on Twitter last month that she was transferring, did not respond to messages from The News & Observer seeking comment. Jones’ father also declined to comment. Efforts by The News & Observer to reach Boyd’s family have been unsuccessful.
When asked Thursday if the allegations outlined in the Post’s story were true, North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a text messsage, “We released our statement on Monday.” He would not comment further.
The school did not give a precise reason for the investigation.
“The University of North Carolina is committed to the well-being of our student-athletes and to ensuring that they have the best experience possible in and outside of competition,” the statement read. “Due to issues raised by student-athletes and others, the University has initiated a review of our women’s basketball program.”
In a statement on Monday, Hatchell said her goal has been to help the players she’s coached to be the best people they could be on the court and in life.
“I love each and every one of the players I’ve coached and would do anything to encourage and support them,” the statement said. “They are like family to me. I love them all.”
Hatchell has coached at North Carolina since 1986 and is in the national Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. She is the only women’s basketball coach to win national championships at three different levels — AIAW, NAIA, and NCAA.
Hatchell has won a national title in 1994 along with eight ACC championships, the most recent in 2008, and has taken the Tar Heels to three Final Fours.
But the Tar Heels have struggled in recent years. They went three seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance from 2016 to 2018. This year’s team went 18-15 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.