Friday, March 09, 2007

Is It Still The Children's Hour?

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.


Anonymous said...

There is a further dimension to this, that arises from the location of LSU. It is widely held in Louisiana (albeit incorrectly) that homosexuality is a sin. The bleeding heart Bible thumpers might get so offended at the prospect of having a gay coach that they might do the unthinkable, like stop giving money to LSU. When you add a good dose of racism, the results are all too predictable.

You have to realize that each year there are letters written to local papers complaining about the fact that there is a gay Mardi Gras crew. If they are mentioned in the paper at all, the letter writers being ranting, raving and quoting the Bible. It is a very sad state of affairs.

In this neck of the woods, there are even those who claimed, with straight faces, that Hurricane Katrina was the result of God's wrath at all the sinning that is supposed to have gone on in N.O. It is all amazingly sad and stupid.

That being said, they re-elected William Jefferson, despite the fact that they found $90k of FBI money in his freezer. Also, not so long ago, Governor Edwin Edwards ran for re-election under the slogan 'Vote for the crook, it matters this time' and won. Needless to say, Edwards is now in jail. However, some people still see him as a folk hero.

The point here is that, unfortunately, rational standards do not apply.

Tim Lacy said...

TR: Great piece! - TL

Lesboprof said...

So you think that sleeping with the students is okay? Really? And a grown person sleeping with a teenager or early 20s-age person is acceptable? And a coach, who controls so much of what players do (eat, sleep, practice, etc.) should be in an intimate romantic relationship with a player? Because if she had this relationship, that is what happened. These student players are UNDERGRADS!

Yes, women's sports are incredibly homophobic. And yes, lots of women coaches are lesbian and closeted. Yes, many of them are sleeping with their assistant coaches, who often used to be players. But what in that justifies sleeping with a student/player?

Racism and homophobia are terrible, but you don't want to hand our tormentors their torches by doing something so clearly stupid as sleeping with a student.

Just because the boys are doing it doesn't make it okay. And to be able to continue to criticize them, I have to criticize her.

I don't think she would quit just because she was outed. Hell, everyone who cares to know about coaches' sexual orientations all know about most of them... I think she probably did sleep with a player who was on her team, and when word leaked out, she quit, hoping it would not go much further.

On a related topic, I hope you are keeping a good thought for Coach Kay Yow--one of the best women's b-ball coaches who is now fighting her cancer to stay alive. She made a huge difference in the sport, and she is a generous, loving spirit, and, I believe, a wonderful lesbian.

Tenured Radical said...

Serious responses to comments so far:

For anonymous: I think the dimension of region and culture that you add here is important, and I have no doubt that homophobia continues to be particularly vicious in the deep South. And my argument is -- women's sports are so homophobic that the very same thing, in the same situation, could happen in Piscataway New Jersey or Palo Alto, CA. Sports is the one place where it is accepted by all of us that out lesbians do not have endorsements and have to hide their personal lives in elaborate ways. Even conservative gays and lesbians think queer folk should be allowed to adopt and serve in the military. But we all watch this kind of thing happen in athletics because "that's the way it is."

That said, that LSU could simply collapse in the face of this and not support someone with a long, fine history wih the institution seems to me morally inexplicable (I'll get to your moral outrage in a minute, lesboprof.) It seems to me that one function that institutions of higher ed have, even (or especially) when they are situated in the Sahara of the Bozart is to spread a little fucking light among the savages.

OK, lesboprof -- it is exactly this kind of kneejerk reaction, especially among queer people, that I think needs to be interrogated. I get it that you are personally horrified by relationships between people of unequal power, and you think I should be horrified too. Well, I'm not and that doesn't make me a bad feminist: it makes me a critical thinker. Let me point out the following:

1) The relationship between Chatman and the player has been alleged. There has been no due process, we do not know when and if it started or happened, how old the player was (some of these athletes are a grat deal older than the average undergrad), if the relationship is committed and ongoing (the grapevine says she is a graduate who now plays in the NBA ) and whether the player supposedly involved felt harmed by it. What we do know does not suggest that Chatman is grazing among each year's crop of freshmen. The rumour of a consenting relationship has been enough to end this woman's career. And I don't think that we can assume harm occurred unless we know it did occur, or that the young woman involved was incapable of consenting freely.

2) Whether sleeping with undergrads is more generally ok or not depends, frankly, on your perspective. Undergrads often think it is perfectly ok and go on to lead healthy and happy lives afterward. I don't think it is an absolute value that such relationships are bad, and I think that one of the problems with our sexual culture nowadays is that childhood has become a category that is infinitely expandable so that more sex can be proscribed. I also think it is how dykes like you and me become "respectable lesbians" -- by making it clear that certain kinds of homosex are bad and we would NEVER do them which is how we can be trusted with power. I don't sleep with undergrads because I am in a relationship that wouldn't tolerate that and it would make me look like the silly. aging dyke in mid-life crisis that I am. And undergrads are dull conversationalists. And I don't have that much sex anyway. But -- that said -- I did have a loving, sexual relationship with a much older teacher when I was eighteen, in a homophobic atmosphere not so different from Louisiana, and it saved my life. And I have had several other relationships since, with age and power peers, which have been a lot unhealthier and more damaging. So do I think intergenerational sex is de facto wrong? Not by a long shot.

Now -- is sex wrong if it happens between a coach and a player (as opposed to a grad advisor and grad student, where there are lesser control issues involved, particularly if the liaison ends "happily" in marriage?) Well, no matter how much we might reserve our right to criticize "the boys" (and we more or less don't -- or those of us who might want to have a lot more on our plate than who is bopping who) the truth is lots of sex happens between coaches and athletes and it is an open hetero- and homo-secret in some sports: track, swimming and tennis are good examples. I don't buy it that sex is only another feature of "control" just because that is one of the ways to use it. And let's assume that we decide it is wrong -- should someone have her entire career ended because of it? No. The woman is not a fucking sex criminal. She had an affair. Or a relationship. Or not.

And can we talk about hypocrisy? Let's assume Chatman did have a relationship with a player, and let's even assume that it was during the season, both of which are unproven. What the sport is saying is: we do not tolerate immorality! When clearly -- I have given two examples -- the sport does tolerate openly abusive and deeply manipulative behavior by coaches -- behavior that we see on television, and read about in print, and it does tolerate relationships between head coaches and assistants, coaches and players, as long as those relationships don't become public. It also tolerates universities pretending they are educating people and then using them as unpaid labor to sell tee shirts, tickets and TV time.

So no, lesboprof -- I got to say I think you are off the beam on this one. And the suggestion that somehow there are limits to our capacity for empathy, so we need to spend it on Kay Yow instead?-- I think there's enough to go around. And should we feel less sympathetic about her cancer if it were revealed that she was in a long term relationship with a former player?


Anonymous said...

Yeh we recently covered Pokey's story over at Highbrid Nation and the story's writer seemed a bit sad to find out she was a lesbian. Guess he had a crush, lol. I'm actually surprised that there haven't been more stories like her's in the news.

Lesboprof said...

TR, I certainly did not mean to imply that there was limited empathy. I truly just made a leap in my head about Kay Yow, because she is a fav b-ball coach and she quickly came to mind when thinking about women coaches. And I would still like her, even if she had slept with a student, though I would be disappointed.

And we can agree to disagree about the appropriate role of the instructor with a student. I hear you saying that your instructor saved your life, and I believe it. I guess I wonder if she might have been able to do so without starting a romantic relationship with you. But that is not what happened, and I believe what you say.

I do need to be clear that I don't think "inter-generation sex is wrong." It isn't the age for me. In fact, I don't actually oppose the student-teacher romantic relationship because I think it is always hurtful to the student. (Even though I do have friends who have been hurt in such relationships, and one who hurt a student, which she very much regrets.) I believe many such relationships can be bad or good, depending on the players. But I think that ignoring the power dynamics and the *potential* for hurt and control is the problem for me. I avoid these relationships for 2 reasons: like you, my partner and I do not want outside relationships and it would not be acceptable; and I do not think that people with power over someone else should be in a relationship, consensual (if that is possible) or otherwise, with that person.

I wouldn't characterize my position as moral outrage; I would save that for someone who was intentionally hurting someone (like Coach Knight, who is a first-class pig and who I dislike to vehemently that I have to change the tv channel when he is on). I am simply disappointed and annoyed IF this allegation is true. I think coaches should not sleep with their players, whatever their sexual orientation.

It is unfortunate that we live in a world where a mistake (or a decision that many believe is a bad one) is so costly, and you are right that the homophobia and racism around us play into this. The boys do get away with this with impunity very often. But that is no reason for an "us too" mentality.

Again, all of this assumes that the rumors are true, and they may not be. In that case, I would be on your side of the issue regarding her ability to stay as coach, to get the support of her school, her colleagues, and the rest of us. I hope it isn't true. But I fear it is.

Anyway, as I said, I can agree to disagree. And we can both be glad that neither of us has to date the poor conversationalists we teach! :-)

Horace said...

Today, Judy Conradt retired. Sadly, UT probably won't be looking Chatman's way to fill those particular shoes.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add two things to what's been said on here already.

Along with remembering that most of what's been reported is based on rumor, we should also keep in mind that the media doesn't (and perhaps, can't) give the whole story. One aspect that's been mostly left out in the coverage of this saga is that there are in fact people who are supporting Pokey. LSU's campus newspaper today included an article in which a former player (who remains anonymous) does--however tactfully--defend Chatman. Also in the news today, Sylvia Fowles's comments to the press following the NCAA Selection Show last night were nothing if not supportive of Pokey. And Fowles and the anonymous former player are joined by numerous fans, at LSU and in Baton Rouge in general, who have no direct contact with the media and so, naturally, wouldn't be included in the coverage.

The other thing that seems to be (completely) absent from the issues raised by the media and blogging communities like this one is that, should the rumors prove to be true, there is still no basis for LSU "forcing" Pokey to resign. If her resignation was indeed of her own accord, fine--that is a separate issue. But, if her resignation was, as the rumor goes, the result of the report of her having a sexual relationship with a player and the subsequent investigation, then a different problem arises. I'm not going to jump in on the debate over the ethics of sex with students / players. I will, however, point out that LSU does not have a non-fraternization policy (though they are now working on creating one). I know of university professors here who have had "relations" with both graduate and undergraduate students. I also know of LSU graduate TAs who have had sexual relationships with undergraduates. While these relationships are all "frowned upon" by the university, they are not prohibited. I've looked, fruitlessly thus far, for an NCAA policy prohibiting fraternization, which could, in a pinch, explain (logically) LSU's handling of the matter. But without such an excuse, I'm inclined to believe the "conspiracy theory"-esque lines of thinking that Pokey is no longer at LSU because she is a woman, or because she is black, or because she is gay, or perhaps all three.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind, and I think it weighs heavily on the issue, she slept with more than one of her players. And yes, at the time, they were "current" and not "former" players. She quit to end the investigation because they told her that what came out would be fed to the media. Maybe the age of the players was an issue. Maybe the name of the players was an issue. I think that potential recruit's parents have the right to know that a coach, who may coach their daughter, has a history of engaging in sexual relationships with players. It was a pattern of behavior with Pokey. It was not an isolated incident. I just hope her apology does not include the words "rehab" or "catholic priest".

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Anonymous said...

I bet the biggest thing she will miss is the shower times with the girls after games

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