Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, WNBA legend, and former head coach at Texas Southern Cynthia Cooper-Dyke has been accused of abusive behavior by former players. This week The Athletic was the first to report on accusations that Cooper-Dyke has had a pattern of using overt sexual language to demean players and exhibiting behavior many players found abusive.
Texas Southern conducted a Title IX probe into the following allegations, according to The Athletic:
- When told that one of her players — who had a previously known mental health diagnosis — was depressed, Cooper-Dyke responded, “No, she will be all right, she just needs some d-ck, that’s all.” Later she called that same player a “sorry-ass virgin.”
- Cooper-Dyke came up behind a player while she was doing squats and said, “Ooh, your hips are big, you got a fat ass and I can tell you like to ride some d-ck.’’
- Cooper-Dyke repeatedly shamed a player for her weight in front of the team, and that player was so despondent she stopped eating in front of her coach.
As a part of the probe Texas Southern spoke to more than 25 individuals, including players and their family members and basketball staff members at Cooper-Dyke’s former head coaching stops.
In addition to Texas Southern, Cooper-Dyke has also coached at USC, UNC-Wilmington, Prairie View A&M, and the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA. Additional allegations include:
- At UNC-Wilmington, where she coached from 2010-12, Cooper-Dyke was said to have often talked about her own or players’ sex lives. For example, at one practice during the 2010-11 season, Cooper-Dyke allegedly said, “Wet, wet” after making a shot and then motioned to a player and said, “I bet that’s what (name redacted) was last night.”
- Investigators were told that during her first stint at Texas Southern, in 2012-13, Cooper-Dyke got on her knees in front of a male assistant during practice and mimicked performing fellatio, and she told one player that her slow running during a drill was due to her “getting d-cked down” all the time. She also allegedly called some players “Black-ass child,” “b-tch,” “p-ssy” and “dumbass.”
- At USC, where Cooper-Dyke coached from 2013-17, the reports says she also harped on some players’ sex lives and named one of the team’s plays “hot sex.” She called some players “retarded” and once mocked people with special needs. She also pressured some players to practice when they were injured or returning from an injury.
The news about Cooper-Dyke sent shock waves through the basketball community, though many people in and around the game knew and/or had knowledge about these allegations.
This also isn’t an isolated incident in the women’s game. Cooper-Dyke’s former teammate Sheryl Swoopes was fired from her position as head coach of Loyola basketball over accusations she mistreated players.
If these allegations are true it would mean Cooper-Dyke used her legendary status and position of power to intimidate and treat players poorly.
When we talk about abuse in any context, there is always a power dynamic at play. Coaches have control over scholarships, playing time, etc. It’s no different than a boss and his/her direct report.
“Nobody has said anything or done anything, just passed her off to the next school,” says one USC player. “This woman mentally and emotionally terrorized us.”
The Cooper-Dyke allegations illustrate how abuse and crass behavior isn’t confined to male coaches. Female coaches who wield power can be just as harmful and abusive.
“Every time something comes across my Instagram, someone celebrating her, I want to scream,” says Thaddesia Southall, who played for Cooper-Dyke at USC in 2013-14. “She does not stand for what the WNBA represents. She does not stand for what they are trying to promote. This is a woman who demeaned us, who talked to us like we were not human. She made me hate basketball, and no one did anything to stop her.”
Cooper-Dyke was asked to respond to the allegations and said they are “untrue” but she “apologize and regret any words” that offended.
“Throughout my years as a coach, I’ve had countless interactions with players in my role as their coach, mentor and friend. I had positive relationships with the majority of players and staff, and my only intention was to maximize players’ potential and help them be their best,” Cooper-Dyke texted. “While these allegations are untrue, everyone deserves to work, play and learn in a respectful environment, and I deeply apologize for and regret any words used during the course of a spirited game or practice that offended or hurt someone.”
Cooper-Dyke has suffered from verbal abuse and was sexually molested as a child by a family friend, as detailed in her book, “She Got Game: My Personal Odyssey.”
Her overwhelming success as a player after having experienced that kind of trauma is incredible, but it doesn’t erase the long-term damage done. Who knows what role that trauma played in her behavior as a head coach.
Berating players and calling attention to sexual proclivities is not a method of making players tougher. It is wrong and extremely damaging.
It is unclear what, if any, punishment Cooper-Dyke might face if these claims are validated. This is yet another cautionary tale that a Hall of Fame player might not necessarily be a Hall of Fame person.