Sports

UNC and NCCU to keep doctor on staff, despite allegations players were pressured to play injured

Sylvia Hatchell’s career at UNC

Sylvia 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.
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Sylvia 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.

The primary doctor for the University of North Carolina women’s basketball team, apparently will remain on staff despite allegations that injured players were pressured to play.

Those allegations against Dr. Harry Stafford, among others — and an independent investigation — led to the resignation of Hall of Fame head coach Sylvia Hatchell last week.

When asked whether Stafford was still on staff, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said through a spokesperson that Stafford’s status at UNC has not changed.

Stafford also will remain the team physician at N.C. Central, an NCCU spokesperson confirmed. The spokesperson did not respond to questions about the UNC allegations.

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Dr. Harry Stafford UNC School of Medicine

The Washington Post, citing 11 players and parents interviewed, reported that players felt constant pressure to rush back to competition under Hatchell, and the team’s medical staff did not support players.

Some parents alleged that their daughters were pressured to take painkiller shots and play. After seeking second opinions, some players found out that their injuries were worse than what Stafford described when he cleared them to play, according to the Post’s story.

The News & Observer previously reported that a parent said his daughter faced pressure to play through injuries, and the team doctor downplayed the severity of an injury she suffered. After seeking a second opinion, and seeking her medical records from UNC, the parent and player found out the injury was more serious than they were led to believe, the parent told the N&O earlier this month.

According to the university, the investigation led to a different conclusion, which is why UNC says Stafford is still on staff.

“Despite Hatchell’s questioning of player care, status and readiness, the medical staff did not surrender to pressure to clear players before they were medically ready,” the investigation concluded, according to a press release.

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North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell directs her players on offense during the first half against Georgia Tech on Thursday, March 7, 2019 during the ACC Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Details of the investigation, which was conducted by Charlotte-based law firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, was not made public by the university. Steve Kirschner, the UNC athletics spokesperson, said it is not considered public information under state law because it contains personnel information.

Hatchell resigned last week as the head coach of the women’s basketball team after 33 years. The university had placed Hatchell and three of her assistant coaches on paid administrative leave on April 1 after players and other made allegations against the coach that she made racially insensitive remarks and pressured players to play while injured. Her attorney, Wade Smith, has denied those allegations.

Six players have transferred from North Carolina’s program in the last five years and there were four more in the NCAA transfer portal as of earlier this month.

Stafford has served as North Carolina’s team physician since 2008. Along with women’s basketball at UNC, he is also the primary care physician for the track and field and cross country teams. Stafford completed his medical training at UNC. He completed a sports medicine fellowship at Duke in 2006.

Stafford is also an associate professor in the Department of Orthopedics and Family Medicine at UNC and makes $163,081 a year.

Efforts to reach Stafford at his home, his UNC clinic and by phone were unsuccessful.

Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.

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