LSU Finally Addresses The Pokey Chatman Scandal

By James Varney
Updated: March 17, 2007

Pokey ChatmanBATON ROUGE — LSU released a statement this week regarding the scandal surrounding former women’s basketball coach Pokey Chatman that indicates her alleged inappropriate behavior involved more than one player over a period of years and that wheels were turning against Chatman for weeks before she realized she had been accused.

School officials confirmed those conclusions, noting the statement was written very precisely and that, “plurals were used for a reason” when referring to the allegations.

As a result, the statement, which includes comments from Chancellor Sean O’Keefe praising Chatman’s contributions and the professionalism of the remaining coaching staff as the team enters the NCAA Tournament, suggests an answer to at least one nagging question about Chatman’s departure — namely its timing.

In mid-February, as the statement confirms, assistant coach Carla Berry raised flags outside the athletic department about Chatman’s alleged inappropriate conduct with players in the past.

From that time on, the coach closely was monitored, but university officials inside and outside the athletic department said neither the arrangement nor the accusation that prompted it were relayed to Chatman.

The school did, however, arrange for a university official to accompany the team on all trips. In effect, that amounted to one road game at Vanderbilt and a four-day trip to Duluth, Ga., for the SEC Tournament, officials said.

Since it’s not unusual for university or athletic department personnel to travel to games, particularly events as high profile as the SEC Tournament, Chatman never realized one purpose of the chaperone was to keep an eye on her, officials said.

Chatman could not be reached for comment and has not spoken publicly since announcing her resignation in a statement released by the university March 7.

Her sudden resignation previously appeared bizarre given the approaching tournament. But, according to the school’s statement, it tracked closely Chatman’s knowledge of affairs.

“Following the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, Berry chose to meet with Chatman and made her aware that university officials had been notified of the allegations,” the statement read.

That set off a chain reaction, including a meeting with “representatives of Chatman,” and school officials March 7 that, “resulted in the resignation.” The representatives are not identified.

Two prominent Baton Rouge attorneys who reportedly have been retained by Chatman have both denied they are representing her.

Although Chatman apparently was absent from the meeting that resulted in her resignation, school officials continue to insist she made her decision unilaterally. Athletic Director Skip Bertman characterized the matter as an “informal” investigation and said the school had “no control” over her decision to depart.

The statement mentions “the inquiry” but O’Keefe’s comments echo Bertman’s, saying Chatman’s decision was “right” and providing no indication it was either demanded or requested at the March 7 meeting.

Charles Zewe, spokesman for the LSU Board of Supervisors, confirmed a story, first reported Thursday in The Advocate of Baton Rouge, that the university has no written policy or guidelines regarding behavior between faculty and students. In Chatman’s case, he said, her contact did contain a moral turpitude clause that Zewe characterized as “standard boilerplate.”

“It’s pretty well universally expected that people in positions of authority are not permitted to abuse that authority for these purposes,” he said.

Zewe confirmed the Advocate story that spoke directly of “intimate relationships,” but stressed he was speaking about school policy as a whole and not making a reference to Chatman’s situation. The school has refused to characterize the essence of the charges leveled against Chatman beyond “inappropriate.”

LSU said it would have preferred to not make any further statement about the issue but did so only because of “speculation about the resignation.” The school will not release any of the names that surfaced in “the inquiry.”

Once more the school labeled its reaction to the allegations as swift and appropriate, and O’Keefe said the ramifications of the charges immediately were clear to the administration.

“Any allegation pertaining to the coach/student-athlete relationship calls into account the trust of the university and parents place in the coaches of sports teams,” O’Keefe said. “It is a fundamental principle that coaches are caretakers and surrogate parents to the student-athletes.”

Both O’Keefe and Senior Associate Athletic Director Judy Southard, who was with the team during the SEC Tournament, praised Berry’s courage in the matter.

“I commend Coach Berry for her actions, including her disclosure to Coach Chatman of her knowledge of the allegations and the actions she had taken,” Southard was quoted as saying. “Having been a teammate and assistant to Coach Chatman for many years, this has been no easy task for Carla.”

O’Keefe noted Berry’s name was included in the statement with her permission. Berry has not responded to e-mails or phone calls or been made available to the media since the story broke.

The statement once again stresses that no current Lady Tigers are involved, but it leaves unanswered another puzzler in the chronology, in this case, the dates of Chatman’s allegedly inappropriate behavior.

Berry was a teammate of Chatman’s at LSU from 1988 to 1992, a period in which the Lady Tigers won their first SEC Tournament in 1991. She joined Chatman’s staff as an assistant in 2001.

Therefore, basketball has linked the two women through much of their adult lives. According to the statement, however, Berry, “recently acquired the information.”