Sheryl Swoopes Investigated For Player Maltreatment at Loyola Chicago

Sheryl Swoopes: Champion, Bully, or Both?

When Sheryl Swoopes was a teenager, she was told by her school that she wasn’t allowed to play basketball with the boys. Despite being of similar stature and talent, Swoopes found out then that women often had to work harder than men to achieve a similar level of success and recognition in life.

Swoopes said the unsavory incident motivated her, and while it almost certainly appeared to, it likely had another lasting effect: It surely made Swoopes want to dedicate her life to proving people wrong – about her abilities and about the abilities of female athletes.

Throughout her long and illustrious career, Sheryl Swoopes managed to prove the point she’d clearly wanted to prove since childhood: She’s a winner, in every sense of the word. During her 14-year career, The Houston Comets star won a number of personal and team awards that catapulted her into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Three Olympic gold medals, three League MVP awards, and four WNBA Championships meant she could call herself one of the greatest female basketball players of all time.

Despite making everything up to this point look so easy, life can’t have been easy for Swoopes – a gay black woman from Brownfield, Texas. Before even stepping on to the court, she had to overcome instances of racism and homophobia.

But Swoopes somehow managed to overcome every obstacle that was in her path, including herself. By showing a level of motivation rarely seen in sports, she was able to become one of the most prominent basketball players – ever. Now nicknamed “the female Michael Jordan”, Swoopes credits her success to her mental strength and work ethic. She credits her ability to bounce back from any setback as the main reason she achieved so much in the WNBA. In a magazine column, she once wrote: “I always believe someone is working harder than me, and that motivates me to work harder, give 100%.”

Swoopes certainly gave 100% throughout her career. Twice she won the league’s award for scoring. Three times she won an award for defensive ability. Swoopes also holds another record: She’s the first player in WNBA history to achieve a playoff triple-double. This work ethic saw her lauded by ESPN as one of the 20 Best Athletes of the Last Decade. Finally, through sacrifice and sweat, Swoopes was recognized as being on par with the men.

In 2011, after a season blighted by injury, Swoopes took her leave from the WNBA. Her team at the time, Tulsa Shock, decided not to renew her contract, which left her little choice but to retire from the game she’d loved since she was a child.

Swoopes had just turned 40, and she was lost. The basketball star later reminisced about her emotional turmoil shortly after leaving the WNBA. She said: “I was very bitter, frustrated, hurt, angry – I went through all types of emotions when first out of the WNBA.” Despite having a role as mother to son Jordan Jackson, Swoopes needed more from life. It was clear her competitive spirit was still as strong as ever, and it was clear Swoopes wasn’t finished with the game of basketball, just because her body could no longer play at the top level.

Her post-basketball career saw her ease her way into coaching. Spending a year as an assistant basketball coach at Mercer Island High School in Washington was enough to whet Swoopes’ appetite. In 2013, Swoopes became the head coach of the Loyola University women’s basketball team. While this would be a positive career move for her, it would also open up a world of controversy.

In April 2016, after three years in charge of the women’s team, Loyola University revealed it was investigating Swoopes after it had received multiple complaints from student athletes. Some of the athletes blamed her for their injuries, while others wanted out of the team and away from the school altogether. In an interview with the New York Post, one of Swoopes’ ex-players compared the basketball legend’s reign to a dictatorship. Swoopes was accused of micromanaging every aspect of her players’ lives to the point it made them miserable and demotivated.

Sometimes, in sports, players and coaches clash. Their styles don’t agree and egos get in the way of success. But what’s happening at Loyola University is more than a mere clash. Ten of the twelve players on Swoopes’ team have either quit or put in a request to transfer. Why? According to ex-player Cate Soane, who left Loyola to transfer to UIC, Swoopes was abusive, hostile, and unfit to be a coach.

Perhaps success would have papered over the cracks, but there wasn’t any. The elation that came from landing Swoopes soon turned into despair. Her overall 31-62 record indicates two things: Her methods aren’t working, and her players aren’t playing for her.

Swoopes’ defense is she wants her team to be the very best. She wants her team to be mentioned along with the greatest teams in women’s basketball and college sports. But that’s a long way off of happening.

When listening to Swoopes’ student athletes, it doesn’t take long to get the impression they feel bullied, rather than just pushed. Accusations of mistreatment have to be taken seriously, even if they are against one of the most talented females to ever play the game of basketball.

Swoopes, naturally, has her defenders. Her proven track record as a winner has convinced some that the controversy stems from pampered athletes being told “no.” But this incident seems more than just that. Some student athletes feel bullied. They’re unhappy; they’re demotivated; and they’re risking their sporting and academic futures to get away from Swoopes. That’s not a decision young people take lightly.

For now, even in the midst of this controversy, Swoopes remains a sporting icon. She continues to be a voice for women, African Americans, and the LGBT community. Whatever Loyota University finds when conducting its internal inquiry won’t change that. However, if the college does find instances of bullying or abuse, Swoopes will be handed her first major loss in basketball. She’ll also tarnish her reputation as a coach forever.

Lauren von Bernuth