After seeing football coach Lincoln Riley's unity march on Friday, several former players on the Oklahoma women’s basketball team took to social media to voice their dissatisfaction — with their old coach.
The result was an apology Sunday night from coach Sherri Coale and a statement from her boss.
“We were obviously concerned,” athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a statement published by several news outlets. “Though we were unaware of the reported concerns of insensitivity in the women’s basketball program prior to the comments that were posted in the last few days, we are committed to listening.”
“To hear the concerns raised by my former student-athletes is disheartening, because it is clear that I have unknowingly caused harm to people I care deeply about,” Coale said in her statement.
“Over my career, I have taken pride in the work that I have done on the court and the commitment to the personal growth of the women I've been responsible for leading. While I have always had the intent of expressing care for others, it is clear that there have been moments where my intent has not been the same as my impact — for that, I sincerely apologize.”
Blowback against Coale started when former player Gioya Carter posted a complaint about her former coach on social media in response to a post about Riley’s stance with his players.
Carter wrote she wishes she knew what it felt like to have a head coach who had her back but “instead, my (four years) there was filled with comments like, ‘You guys act like (nationwide racial violence) happened to you.’ ”
To which numerous other former players replied with similar complaints about Coale.
“She hit me with several racist comments after we went to Monticello in Virginia … Thomas Jefferson’s plantation,” Jacqueline Jeffcoat posted to Carter. “How insensitive. Told me to take down a post bc (because) I felt strongly about it. I’m with you.”
“The comments being made in regard to this tweet is the reason why so many of us struggled to speak out,” wrote Ijeoma Odimgbe. “It’s sad enough that this is OUR reality, but to be discredited too? so hurtful.”
Castiglione, who recently gave Coale a contract extension through 2024 (her annual salary is $1.33 million), defended Coale’s track record in his statement.
“Throughout her 24 years of collegiate coaching, Coach Coale has demonstrated tremendous character and a consistent record of advocating for her student-athletes,” Castiglione said. “I know Coach Coale — along with the rest of the women's basketball program leadership — joins me in eagerly availing ourselves to further engage in these important conversations.”
“For several years,” Coale said, “I’ve made a concerted effort to educate myself and my players about how we can, together, create and sustain an environment in which all feel welcome and at home — a part of our women’s basketball family. While our past and present efforts in support of inclusion are ones I am proud of, I also know I should not assume that our learning and growth is ever finished.
“I am committed to working with my staff and my players toward continual growth. I want to ensure that any of my words or actions reflect my values, and the love I have for my student-athletes is shown in the knowledge I impart on them every day.”
Castiglione also expressed hope that OU student-athletes would continue to utilize resources available players from all teams. In 2008, OU claimed to be the first athletic department in the nation to implement sports psychology services under the athletic department umbrella to help players deal with issues of all kinds.
“We have avenues through which student-athletes can converse with coaches, administrators or confidentially and anonymously with our team of sports psychologists any time they want to bring a concern to our attention, and we actively seek their input,” Castiglione said. “My hope is that we can move forward and work together in building greater understanding as we constantly strive to be better.”
The program was nearly shuttered in the early 1990s before then-AD Donnie Duncan responded to public outcry by giving it another shot. Duncan hired Coale from Norman High School in 1996.
“She is Oklahoma basketball,” former Sooner Maddie Manning told Boyd Street Magazine in March. “She made the program what it is. That’s why I went to the University of Oklahoma. That’s why kids go there, to play for Sherri Coale. She’s a Hall of Fame coach and has an unbelievable way of motivating people. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Coale has won 501 games and has guided the Sooners to three Final Fours, but the Sooners have had several lean years. After going 16-15 in 2017-18, OU’s streak of 19 straight years in the NCAA Tournament was snapped in 2018-19 when OU went 8-22. The Sooners were 12-18 this year this year before the postseason was canceled by Coronavirus.
The Sooners, who made it to the national championship game in 2002 and the Final Four in 2009 and 2010, haven’t been past the NCAA Tournament second round since 2013.
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