All Rights reserved
When Pokey Chatman resigned from her post as head coach of Louisiana State University's women's basketball team one week before her Lady Tigers, which were ranked 10th nationally, were set to enter the NCAA tournament, things didn't look good for LSU--or Chatman. Then it was reported the following week that she had been turned in by her assistant coach Carla Berry for "inappropriate sexual conduct" with a former player, and several things--including Berry's timing and motivation--remained unclear.
On Wednesday, March 7, after meeting with her players and announcing her resignation, Chatman issued a brief statement explaining that she would be leaving LSU after its last game to "pursue career opportunities." The following day, however, the athletic department's
Web site quoted Chatman as saying: "My resignation yesterday has prompted speculation and rumors that far exceeded my expectations, and it is clear that my presence would be a great distraction during the NCAA Tournament. I believe it is in the best interests of the team that I step away from my coaching duties immediately. I want the players and staff to have the best chance to maximize the opportunities we've earned. I have every confidence in the young ladies and the remaining coaches that they will have success in the NCAA Tournament." Simultaneously the stories of her alleged misconduct began coming out on ESPN.com and in the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. By Friday, Chatman all but disappeared and has since had no communication with the media.
Initially LSU denied knowledge of any formal investigation and claimed that her resignation was her "preference." Athletic director Skip Bertman said, "The girl [referring to 37-year-old Chatman] did what she did, and LSU had no control over that." The university still maintains it isn't aware of any lawsuit being brought against itself or Chatman. Later, however, Bertman admitted that Chatman had not been allowed to be alone with any of her players since mid February, when Berry brought forward allegations that Chatman had had a sexual relationship with at least one LSU player she coached. One week after Chatman's departure, in an interview with The Advocate of Baton Rouge, LSU chancellor Sean O'Keefe said that Chatman resigned before they could finish an investigation into Berry's allegations, that they didn't involve any current players, and that Chatman demonstrated "a pattern of activity that was disruptive to the team." In a statement released that week senior associate athletic director Judy Southard said: "I can say, without reservation, that Coach Berry acted with heartfelt interests for her alma mater and the student-athletes at LSU."
According to LSU's newspaper, The Daily Reveille, Berry told Chatman after the Southeastern Conference women's tournament ended on March 4 that she had told the university of her allegations. Chatman and Berry played together as undergraduates at LSU, had been on the coaching staff together for the past six years, and were said to be very close friends--Chatman is even said to have sought advice from Berry as late as the day after her resignation.
Chatman, who has never discussed her sexuality publicly, played under legendary coach Sue Gunter from 1988 to 1991. She also served as a student coach for a season before being named associate coach, a post she held for 12 years. When Gunter stepped down in 2003 due to acute emphysema, Chatman was named acting head coach and took the Lady Tigers to the Final Four round of the 2004 NCAA tournament. As permanent head coach, Chatman brought LSU back to the Final Four in her first two full seasons. At the time of her resignation Chatman's won-loss record was 90-14, and her $400,000 salary put her among the NCAA's highest-paid women's basketball coaches.
Teammates were initially barred from talking to the media, but all off-the-record reports indicate that players were shocked and devastated by Chatman's departure.
Neither LSU nor the NCAA has any policies prohibiting sexual relations between coaches and players or even faculty and students, and Chatman's alleged liaisons wouldn't specifically violate her contract. But in a recent statement LSU spokesman Charles Zewe said, "It's absolutely preposterous to suggest that the university should condone relationships between professors, deans, or whomever and students just because there isn't a written policy."
Though heterosexual relationships between coaches and players can be romanticized in the media (Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Marion Jones, and Brandi Chastain all married their college coaches), same-sex relationships often spark scandals. As recently as 2001, Sports Illustrated reported that an alleged sexual relationship between Nancy Lieberman, who was then coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock, and point guard Anna DeForge was causing strife on the team. Lieberman was dismissed from her position, though she continues to deny any sexual relationship with DeForge.
Senior associate athletic director Herb Vincent told the Associated Press that because Chatman has not accepted another job (as of press time), she will not be subject to contract guidelines that stated she could owe up to $400,000 in fines--$200,000 for each year missed before her contract's 2009 conclusion. LSU has also agreed to pay her $33,000 monthly salary until her resignation becomes official April 30. Also, since LSU has made the Final Four again this year, she's reportedly eligible to collect up to a $70,000 bonus.