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Allegations of Sexual Harassment Led to Golf Coach's Resignation

NCT had a reasonable question, to which I had only the bare bones of an answer.

Georgia women's golf coach Todd McCorkle announced his resignation for "personal reasons" on May 7. The timing was exceedingly strange, coming just days before Georgia began competing in the N.C.A.A. Championships as the top seed in the Central Regional and just days after Coach McCorkle won his second S.E.C. Coach of the Year Award.

The Red & Black, characterizing the resignation as "abrupt," reported that an assistant coach would act as head coach during the regional competition. In addition, Golfweek reported:

Golfweek has learned that Craig White, the Associate Athletic Director for Sports and Operations, will be accompanying the team and assistant coach Veronique Drouin.

Several Georgia players would not comment when reached by Golfweek. McCorkle did not immediately return phone calls. . . .

Georgia athletic director Damon Evans said McCorkle would remain on the athletic association staff in another capacity.

Initially, beyond reporting what few facts were known publicly, I steered clear of this story because I had absolutely no evidence upon the basis of which to doubt Coach McCorkle's statement that this decision would provide him the flexibility to assist his wife with her professional golfing career. I presumed that this was his motivation for resigning . . . although I could not help but notice that his quotation ("Coaching at Georgia has been a great experience but this will allow me more flexibility in assisting my wife with her LPGA career") stopped somewhat short of saying that this was his reason.

In the meantime, questions such as NCT's remained unanswered. If there were personal reasons for Coach McCorkle's resignation, it made perfect sense that he wouldn't immediately return telephone calls. Why, though, would his players refuse to comment? Why wouldn't they say, "Coach McCorkle told us he wanted to help his wife with her career as a professional golfer"?

Furthermore, why was his resignation immediately effective? The Red & Black was right . . . it was abrupt for the coach to quit during the very week that his team was to begin competing for a national championship, necessitating that an assistant coach take over for him.

Finally, if Golfweek's report was correct, why was Craig White tagging along with the team? White's diverse background includes an eight-year stint as an academic counselor and certification as a sport psychologist. Was White, who holds a Ph.D., being sent with the team to assist them during this trying transitional time, or was there more to it? Why, we were left to wonder, was his alleged presence on the trip reported by Golfweek and not by the University?

Regrettably, the other shoe finally has dropped. Early inklings of this were given when White reportedly stated that an investigation had been completed, the results of which could not be released until 10 days after the conclusion of the investigation, in compliance with University policy.

Following some initial foreshadowing by Tiffany Joh, the word came down from SportsBlogs Nation's golf weblogger at Waggle Room, Mulligan Stu, who posted a story at his own weblog and a diary here at Dawg Sports in which he passed along information reported by the Associated Press:

Todd McCorkle's sudden decision to resign as the women's golf coach at Georgia last week followed complaints from players about his inappropriate sexual comments and jokes, according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press. . . .

McCorkle was said to have shared a sexually explicit Paris Hilton video from the Internet with the team. Players reported McCorkle shared remarks about bras and underwear color. Other comments were more explicit, referring to male anatomy. There was a mention by one player of inappropriate physical contact.

The news story cites a memorandum that "was one of several documents obtained in response to an open records request filed by the AP" which "included 48 pages of handwritten notes by school investigators from interviews with current and former players."

The memo referred to by Associated Press sportswriter Charles Odum reportedly came from Steve Shewmaker, the University's executive director for legal affairs. As described by Odum, Shewmaker's memo informed Coach McCorkle that "he violated the university's Non-Discrimination Anti-Harassment Policy."

"This finding," Shewmaker reportedly wrote, "is based, in part, on your statements made during our investigation. For example, you admitted you told one of the team members she looked 'sexy' on the way to the SEC tournament banquet."

The memo, which characterized such comments as having "the effect of creating a hostile or offensive environment," reportedly advised Coach McCorkle:

We also recommend a close supervision of your interactions with your team, as any further conduct on your part that is a violation of this policy should result in immediate additional disciplinary action, up to and including termination of your employment with the university.

The memo, which reportedly was issued three days before the news of Coach McCorkle's resignation was made public, allegedly informed Coach McCorkle that he would be suspended without pay for the month of July.

Reasonable citizens may debate the proper parameters of the sort of conduct constituting legally actionable harassment, but, if Odum's report of the findings of the University investigation is accurate, it is difficult to have sympathy for a 44-year-old coach engaging in this sort of behavior with young women in their teens and early 20s while they are under his charge. Given what has been reported today, Coach McCorkle's decision to step down certainly was a prudent one under the circumstances.

Perhaps it is just a sign of the times in which we live, but, when the male coach of an all-female sports squad steps down abruptly, the first question that pops into most of our minds is whether he directed inappropriate actions or remarks of a sexual nature towards his players. Obviously, it would have been irresponsible to have raised such questions publicly without any evidence, but it's something I (and, no doubt, many of you) wondered. I am grateful to Mulligan Stu of Waggle Room for bringing us the unfortunate confirmation of our worst fears.

Go 'Dawgs!