By Patrice Nkrumah, Chicago Crusader
Less than two weeks after being elected in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Loyola University head women’s basketball coach Sheryl Swoopes finds herself in the middle of a school investigation. On Monday April 19, officials at the school said they are conducting an independent investigation into some of Swoopes coaching tactics after 10 of 12 eligible players informed the school they would not be returning next semester. This follows an exodus of five players the previous year. Swoopes just completed her third year at the North Shore University and recently signed a contract extension.
“Any time there are allegations of student-athlete mistreatment, it is more than concerning,” said Jermaine Truax, Loyola’s deputy athletic director, in a statement to the Crusader. “The welfare of our student-athletes is paramount. Thus, the Loyola University Chicago Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has asked for an independent and comprehensive University investigation into the women’s basketball program.”
Swoopes, who is a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist as a player, went on to have the most successful professional career of any female basketball player in history. She won multiple WNBA championships, starred overseas and is credited with bringing the modern women’s sport into mainstream America. She was also the first female basketball player to earn a $1 million endorsement contract.
The nature of the player mistreatment has yet to be announced by the school. But sources on the team told the school newspaper, the Loyola Phoenix that Swoopes verbally mocked players and tried to micromanage their lives to a point where they felt she had too much control. Several respected coaches within the college game have said today’s athletes are more sensitive and coaches have to be careful about what they do and say around athletes.
Most abuse isn’t physical, but psychological or emotional, often directed at injured or sick players, according to Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. Huma said the emotional and verbal abuse comes from a dying culture in college sports where the coach was seen almost as having God-like authority. But in 2016, today’s athletes will not tolerate such tactics as those used in the past by coaches like Bobby Knight.
“It’s a changing of the culture and smart coaches change their tactics,” Huma said, without commenting on the Loyola situation specifically.
Swoopes has coached at Loyola for three seasons, and her teams have gone a combined 31-62. The Crusader was attempting to schedule an interview with Swoopes to discuss her induction in the Hall of Fame when the news of the investigation broke. Loyola officials say Swoopes is cooperating in the investigation.
“We look forward to learning how we can resolve these allegations and improve the student-athlete experience within the women’s basketball program,” Truax said.
Loyola is not the only women’s basketball program in the state with issues. The University of Illinois last week announced it had reached a settlement with seven former players who accused the coaching staff of creating a racist environment on the team. The seven plaintiffs will split the $375,000 settlement that will be paid by the university’s self-insurance plan. Also as part of the settlement, the university has developed a code of conduct for player-coach interactions, appointed a compliance officer to monitor the code, enhanced racial sensitivity training for coaches and staff and made better efforts to inform student-athletes of resources available to them for issues with coaches. While the University agreed to the settlement, it was not an admission of guilt.
“We’re sorry that these students’ experiences at Illinois did not meet our high expectations,” said Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson.
The lawsuit alleged that in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons; coaches held segregated practices, segregated room assignments on road trips, gave the white players favorable treatment and called African-American players unintelligent, undisciplined and “west-side ghetto.” The players said the behavior was designed to coerce them to quit the team, surrender their scholarships or transfer.
Two external investigations never found the racist allegations credible. None of the seven players are still with the University. They either graduated or transferred. They are: Amarah Coleman, Alexis Smith, Taylor Tuck, Nia Oden, Sarah Livingston, Taylor Gleason and Jacqui Grant.