April 19, 2007
By JERÉ LONGMAN
Now that the women’s college basketball season has ended, many coaches are on the road recruiting through mid-May. And, some said in recent interviews, they could face fallout from last month’s resignation of Pokey Chatman from Louisiana State, following charges of what the university described yesterday for the first time as inappropriate sexual relationships between her and former players.
“This is everyone’s worst nightmare,” Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, said during widespread discussion of the Chatman case during the N.C.A.A. tournament.
At its heart, L.S.U. officials said, the Chatman case is about abuse of trust or power. Yet some coaches, administrators and academics say they fear that the accusations against Chatman will inflame homophobia; reinforce stereotypes of lesbians as sexual predators; lead to more so-called negative recruiting, or attempts to steer players away from coaches suspected of being gay; increase skepticism toward the hiring of single women as head coaches; and scare the parents of potential recruits.
“I think there are coaches who may try to use this against any female coaches who are not married and just make innuendo, to put fear in some players’ minds or parents’ minds,” said Gail Goestenkors, the former Duke coach who moved this month to the University of Texas. “That happens sometimes now anyway. I think that will fuel the fire a little bit.” ...
The most immediate impact of the Chatman case, some coaches said during the N.C.A.A. tournament, may be an increase in negative recruiting. Coaches and administrators disagree on how widespread the role of suspected lesbianism plays in pitting one university against another, but many agree the practice exists in a manner that can be subtle and overt....
Sometimes, coaches say, sexual orientation becomes a blunt tool in recruiting, with a rival coach saying to a prospective player or her parents: “You don’t want to go to this school because the coach is a lesbian or there are lesbians on the team.”
A coach who is described as being a lesbian becomes almost defenseless in confronting such claims, left with the choice of denying it or saying, “I am but I won’t bother your daughter,” said Linda Carpenter, emeritus professor of physical education at Brooklyn College who has studied the participation of women in sports for three decades.
“It gives fodder to people looking for a reason to carve out an area where women need not apply,” Carpenter said. ...
Kane, the sports sociologist at Minnesota, said she once heard a female coach say that the best coaching qualifications for a woman are to be divorced with no children. This ostensibly establishes her heterosexuality while leaving her free to hit the road on recruiting trips.
Chatman has been replaced at L.S.U. by Van Chancellor [a man]. This is a sensitive subject at a time of a declining rate of women’s teams being coached by women. In Division I women’s basketball, 230 of the 332 teams — 69.3 percent — were coached by women in 2006, Carpenter said. In 1992, that percentage was 72.2 percent. ...
That because pay and pressure has gone up, so more men have gotten into coaching women's basketball.
“I think there needs to be an opportunity for women to coach women,” Finch said. “I hate to see people that are anti-Title IX — and there’s a lot of that sentiment — say, ‘Here’s another way we can take down women in sports.’ ” A regrettable aspect of the L.S.U. case was that it would likely reinforce the stereotype of lesbians as sexual threats, said Pat Griffin, professor emeritus of social justice at the University of Massachusetts and author of the book “Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sports.” Her own research, Griffin said, indicated that the “vast majority” of lesbian coaches were “very scrupulous” about their treatment of players. “They know how unfounded accusations can ruin careers,” Griffin said.
... The resignation of Coach Rene Portland from Penn State last month may also signal that those who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation could face a loss of top-quality recruits and a loss of their jobs, Kane said.
Portland resigned weeks after settling a lawsuit filed by a former player who accused her of banning lesbians from her team. Previously, Portland was fined by the university and ordered to take diversity training.