WNBA

Cynthia Cooper Must Repair Her Relationships

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Progress has yet to be made. 

Especially in Cynthia Cooper’s case.

She can still return to coaching basketball, but more progress of her behavior has to improve after a report filed via The Athletic, regarding her disturbing behavior toward her players.

Cooper returned to the bench for the first time as an assistant coach for the college All-Star game since resigning from Texas Southern two years prior, much to the surprise of many.

Cooper, like other notable coaches, is the ultimate competitor, but it can be a double-edged sword.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo had a notable incident of holding a clenched fist as he was yelling at one of his players.

Deceased Indiana University head coach Bobby Knight physically choked one of his players in practice. 

The common denominator is that the resume of these coaches allow them to get away with so much and their antics get put to the side until enough is enough.

A decorated athlete herself — a four-time WNBA champion, four-time Finals MVP, two-time league MVP, three-time WNBA scoring champion and two-time NCAA champion — Cooper’s disturbing actions as a coach is just as deep as her basketball resume.

For a long time, Cooper’s notoriety gave her leeway.

“Nobody believed me,” Thaddesia Southall, who played for Cooper at USC in 2013-2014 said via The Athletic. “They thought I was just lazy or weak because that’s what she said. This is a superstar, a legend. Of course they believed what she said.”

Some players and coaches don’t know when to stop until they are held accountable.

Cooper showed that she had no filter, consistently making sexual references in practice during her stint at UNC-Wilmington.

“Wet, wet,” Cooper said when a player made a shot. “I bet that’s what (name redacted) was last night.”

Now in this context, “wet” can be a compliment to a basket being made.

But her repetitive sexual references indicate her true intentions. 

Coaches are supposed to provide life lessons and support their players’ college experience.

Being tough and telling players the hard cold reality is one thing, but consistently bringing up sensitive subjects like there are no consequences is disturbing and it crosses the line. 

“We say to this day, like, we feel like we went through hell,” a former player of Cooper from Texas Southern said via The Athletic. “We talked to each other through everything.. At the point, it was just like, forget this basketball stuff, let’s protect each other’s sanity.”

It should and it’s supposed to be the coaches’ responsibility to reinforce the importance of life lessons as they guide their players.

But, some of the players are to a point they are protecting each other from Cooper.

In the aftermath of her resignation, Cooper reflects back on her actions two years later.

“I realized I was in trouble,” Cooper said via The Athletic. “I sent my therapist the article before ever going just so she would know what she was dealing with. Then I just went to work — work on myself, work on looking in the mirror to see what I could have done better or could have done differently.”

The audacity to say that after many of what Cooper’s former players have gone through.

Not a mention of working to mend relationships.

Cooper did not provide examples of how she could have handled situations differently. Or even provide examples how she could improve her character moving forward.

And instead, continues to feed her own ego.

“I do want to be able to contribute in a positive way to women’s basketball,” Cooper said via The Athletic. “I’ve done that my entire career and I would like to continue to help grow the sport if they’ll let me.

No doubt Cooper’s resume has positively impacted women’s basketball. But her behavior does not support her statement that she has had a positive impact on women’s basketball during her entire career from playing to coaching.

Clearly from the reports, from a standpoint of growing women’s basketball, Cooper had some former players consider quitting the sport. The only person stopping Cooper from growing the game is her character.

Many of her players were in a dark place because of her behavior. Southall even admitted she lost her love for the game.

“She (Cooper) made me hate basketball,” Southall said via The Athletic. “And no one did anything to stop her.”

As Cooper said that she is not “perfect,” yet she appeared to demand perfection out of her players and she was unforgivable if a player had one bad rep in practice. 

One of Cooper’s former players at UNC-Wilmington, Julia Finlay, said that she never missed practice and that Cooper had decided not to give her punishment due a foot injury that Finlay was nursing.

While Cooper was on a leave of absent, assistant coach Johnetta Hayes had Finley run as while she had an injured foot. Later on, Hayes was disciplined for her actions.

Cooper said it was a “bad choice” to have Finlay run.

Poor decisions made by the staff can still reflect poorly on the head coach. It should not have even been a thought to have an injured player run.

The fact that Cooper’s staff considered having a player run with an injured foot is despicable.

The consistent disgusting treatment was not a mistake. It was poor decision making and shows her character.

That should say how little she has learned.

Cooper’s compulsiveness has led to her behavior making little to no progress. 

Not one mention of a lesson that she has learned and applied.

If the time comes when Cooper no longer makes it about herself and actively seeks to make amends to her former players, she will then start the road to accountability – and eventually, basketball.

About Mac Pham

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