What the Hell is Going on at Carolina?

More turmoil in the UNC athletic program threatens Carolina's academic standing.

Storied UNC women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell is under investigation for racially offensive comments to her team invoking images of slavery. The New York Times reports Hatchell commented about nooses and referred to players as “old mules.” UNC has taken the usual approach and commissioned an investigation by a reputable NC law firm, and Hatchell has been suspended pending the outcome.

So let’s be clear about the outcome. If the firm substantiates she made this comment, she should be shown the door. No fanfare, no halftime celebration at a UNC men’s game next year, no public statements of appreciation. She should just be invited to leave, paid whatever severance is due, and booked a ticket to Florida to spend her days on a beach reflecting on how insensitive her comments were to her players and other African-American students at Carolina. There’s just no room for that kind of talk in an inclusive, diverse center of learning that Carolina purports to be.

Of course, Carolina has experienced other troubles meeting the standard over the past few years and may have lost its way in figuring out where athletics fits in with the academic community the state’s flagship university is supposed to represent. As I have written elsewhere, there does not appear to have been sufficient accountability for some fairly substantial transgressions linked to the football and men’s basketball programs. New chancellor, maybe a new women’s basketball coach, and a new standard of integrity and performance — let’s hope Interim Chancellor Kevin
Guskiewicz can apply the mindset of his research on head trauma and CTE to fixing what really ails the University.

Look, I follow Carolina basketball as closely as most normal fans, and I love attending a football game once a year. I’m proud of the way the women’s soccer team has dominated their sport over the decades, even as the leadership of that legendary program crash landed. I’m optimistic about Carolina’s baseball chances this year after a good showing at the College World Series in 2018. But athletics has to fit into a larger, more important culture of academic integrity, social responsibility, and model conduct by University leaders. UNC has the chance, right here, right now, to take a concrete step in turning the ship of low professional and academic standards toward redemption.

Do better, Carolina.

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Butch Bracknell
About Butch Bracknell
Butch Bracknell is an international security lawyer. A career Marine, he is a father, Truman National Security Project member, and Sorensen Political Leaders Program fellow. All posts are his personal views only, not representing any organization. Follow him on Twitter at @ButchBracknell.


  1. James Joyner says:

    I’ve only paid attention to the current scandal out of the corner of my eye. That UNC engaged in a decades-long cheating scandal, including with its men’s basketball program, and the NCAA ultimately concluded ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ still stuns me.

  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I’m not from the South and so my view is tinted by that, but I’ve never associated UNC and “center of learning.” Additionally, my view is jaundiced by my long standing conviction that, especially among people that I knew personally, few students play sports in order to go to college but many go to college in order to refine their skills at sports in the, mostly futile, hope that the extra time will evolve into a shoe contract and HOF nomination. A scandal in a sports program? NCAA trying desperately not to notice? Just another day that ends in “y.”

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I’m not from the South and so my view is tinted by that, but I’ve never associated UNC and “center of learning.”

    Granting that my most prestigious degree is from Alabama, but UNC has long been regarded as a public Ivy. According to the latest reputable rankings, UNC is the 33rd highest ranked university on the planet; for context, the Sorbonne is 29th. According to the US News rankings, UNC is tied with NYU and UC-Santa Barbara for 30th among US national universities—ahead of Boston College and William & Mary.

  4. Gustopher says:

    You seem to want a lot of people fired.

    From the article:

    He said some players had misconstrued Hatchell’s words, but he acknowledged that she had apologized after an internal uproar about the episode in which people recalled that she had referred to nooses.

    “She said words like, ‘They’re going to hang us out to dry. They’re going to take a rope and hang us out to dry,’” Smith said. He added that Hatchell, who did not believe she had said anything improper, initially apologized by saying something like, “I’m sorry you took it that way.”

    “The team did not see that as an apology,” Smith said. “I think she thought she apologized.”

    It seems inarticulate, and with the history of North Carolina, regrettably racially charged, but if the paraphrasing is accurate, I don’t think anyone should be fired over it. Sensitivity training, and some training on how to actually apologize when you inadvertently say something that upsets people, sure. But fired?

    People can be clueless and careless. Should we destroy their careers for that? I wouldn’t want to be held to the standard of “never make a dumb comment”. I have a friend who was tired of having to fix the same problem at work over and over, and somehow stumbled onto a catchy phrase for fixing things once and for all — “final solution”. Not great.

    I have no idea what the “old mule” thing is — unless it’s a very popular, regional racial slur, I’m going to lump that into the inarticulate and unfortunate category.

    She definitely needs to learn how to apologize after she makes a dumb comment though.

  5. @Gustopher: She used a noose analogy with black players. Fired. That’s a third rail and everyone knows it.

  6. Mike Pollack says:

    @Butch Bracknell: “Hang us out to dry” refers to a noose in what world?