Monday, March 12, 2007

No Excuses

The Pokey Chatman saga at LSU continues to play out slowly and gets more and more ugly. ESPN is reporting two significant facts: (1) the player with whom Chatman had a sexual affair was a player on the team at the time; and (2) assistant women's basketball coach Carla Berry is the person who reported Chatman to LSU officials.

If Chatman had a sexual affair with one of her players while she was their coach, she had to go. If this is the allegation, I am amazed that LSU accepted her resignation and is paying her until April 30th. You would think that with allegations of this nature and this enormity, that the school would have taken immediate and decisive action. Instead, they initially allowed Chatman to resign and to issue a statement that she was leaving to pursue other career opportunities. (Hmmm. Maybe that's why the LSU board tabled a vote on giving AD Skip Bertman a new deal.) She should be pursuing something outside the realm of coaching young, vulnerable athletes. Maybe she can get a job with Granny Basketball in Iowa. Those women wouldn't take any crap from her.

I feel a lot of resentment towards Chatman. Her actions sully all of women's basketball. They reinforce the absolutely false stereotype that lesbians (or gay men, for that matter) are sexual predators who shouldn't be allowed to work with kids because they'll be cruising them. If there were statistics on this kind of thing I'm sure they'd show that heterosexual coaches are just as likely to violate social norms and get involved with players.

On the other hand, I feel sorry for Chatman and all the other people who live their lives in the closet. I only know of one women's basketball coach, Tara VanDerveer (Stanford, former US Olympic coach), who is out as a lesbian. (And I'm not even sure if she's really "out", see this Washington Post article on negative recruiting.) There are certainly many other coaches in Pokey Chatman's situation: lesbians who are cowering in the closet, afraid to live their lives out loud.

Imagine what her life was like. She is gay, but pretending to be straight. Think of all the things she does to keep in the closet. She doesn't hang out with gay friends in public. Maybe she is even afraid to have friends who are out of the closet. She doesn't go to gay clubs or gay events. She doesn't acknowledge her partner (if she has one) in public in any way. This is no basis for a relationship, so her partner leaves her. Or maybe she has never had the courage to have a partner at all. Eventually, her life becomes constricted to one thing: basketball; and one group of people: her team. This becomes her social life. These are the people she spends time with. When she leaves the team, she goes back into her protective shell, but on the basketball court she can be, for the most part, herself.

And sports are intense, intimate, expressive, and emotional. (If you doubt that, go watch the Celtic fans singing in the post below.) Just the dangerous mix where a repressed gay person can make the biggest mistake of her life, on the public stage, and lose everything as a result.

I am writing all of this based on what has been reported. You hope it isn't true. But if it is, even though I feel sorry for Chatman, there are no excuses. She had choices and made all the wrong ones. Now she can do what she should have done from the beginning. Live out loud, be who she is, and walk on with her life.

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