Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another player/coach incident

Remember the other day when I briefly mentioned the inclusion of information, cited in the Times article, that male coach/female student-athlete relationships are much more prevalent than same-sex ones?
Well the breaking news out of Boston College seems to corroborate that statement. BC women's ice hockey coach Tom Mutch resigned yesterday to "pursu[e] other career interests." That is almost the exact same wording used when Pokey Chatman resigned, no?
And like the Chatman resignation it seemed highly improbably. Mutch just finished his most successful season at BC bringing them to the Frozen Four last month after being named Hockey East Coach of the Year. He had two hot freshman that were getting national team experience and it looked like the BC women, a fairly new team, were on the verge of becoming a hockey powerhouse, similar to their male counterparts. Something was amiss.
And then the news broke that the resignation was amidst allegations of improper conduct, of a sexual nature with a player--a current player. (The Boston Herald, being a somewhat more sensational paper, has named the player but I am going to refrain from doing so here.)
What the exact nature of the relationship was has not been revealed. The primary evidence seems to be text messages of a sexual nature the player sent to Mutch from her cell phone that she had not deleted when she let a friend borrow her phone. There has been no word on return messages but it seems improbable that this was a one-way conversation. Any coach who received unwanted sexual messages from a player would have stopped the situation before multiple messages were sent. In other words, he had to have created a situation in which that behavior was allowed--if not encouraged.
I am not sure if it is fair to say that Mutch has a history of getting involved with players but his wife, Laurie, was an athlete he coached as an assistant coach for the US National Team at the Nagano Olympics.*
What I am waiting to see is how this situation is discussed in the public arena. It will be difficult to compare it to the Chatman situation--not because of the sexuality issue--but because women's hockey has nowhere near the status of women's basketball. So far it seems that the news has not made it beyond New England-based news outlets.
But I think what media coverage it does get will be worth exploring for signs of heterosexual bias. No article yet has made the Mutch-Chatman connection to cite a problem with the abuse of power in a coach/student-athlete relationship.
And of course the aftermath will be the most interesting. Will BC, who has temporarily given assistant coach, and former Olympian, Katie King the reins, appoint a female head coach to ward off fears from potential recruits about predatory heterosexual males? Will this hurt recruiting for teams like UNH, Providence, Boston University, Vermont, Dartmouth, Princeton, or Cornell who all have male head coaches (there are a lot of male head coaches in women's ice hockey)? Will parents start asking coaches if they have ever had relationships with players or what their policy is on coach-player relationship?
What do you think?

* When I was doing my thesis research on gender and coaching in women's ice hockey I actually heard several stories of players becoming involved with and even marrying their former coaches. It is something I have wanted to look further into for a while now and this story may have just moved it a little higher on my research agenda. So if anyone knows any good sources about older men/younger women relationships that emerge out of a situation where 1) women are engaged in a non-traditional (i.e. more masculine) activity; and/or 2) men are (or were once) strong authority figures in the lives of younger women please pass it along.

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