New University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft acted wisely in appointing Joseph W. Hatchett, a pioneering black civil rights attorney and retired state and federal judge, to investigate the university's handling of racial discrimination complaints leveled by student athletes. The charges are serious, and USF mishandled the original complaints months before Genshaft arrived on campus. To her credit, Genshaft recognized the seriousness of the problem and ordered a full and independent investigation.
Several players claim head women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters disparaged black players, was more demanding of blacks and segregated the players by race on road trips. According to an in-house review, several players "expressed strong concern of repercussions about stepping forward," and the coach reportedly met for hours with black players "trying to break the black girls" down.
Even by the admission of some top university officials, the charges may be valid and the school's original response was poorly handled. The biggest unanswered question is why the equal opportunity office was shunted aside so that the investigation could be handled internally by the athletics department, which had an obvious conflict.
The choice of Hatchett is an indication Genshaft wants real answers. Race discrimination is an inflammatory charge, and USF can't afford for this cloud to linger unresolved for much longer. The public needs a fuller picture of what the coach said and did and a chronology of how school officials responded to the complaints.