On leaving the team, Mason publicly complained about a housing bill she'd received from the university and said that Parsons had promised her that all such expenses would be "taken care of." Parsons denied making any such promise. Associate Athletic Director John Moore said at the time he hadn't yet made a "thorough examination" of Mason's claim. Today Moore says he eventually determined that "no huge examination was needed." Mason, who now plays for Oklahoma City University, says, "Parsons told me everything would be taken care of moneywise—books, housing. She said some alumni would be looking out for me." Mason also says that as a recruit she made both an official visit to Columbia and one on her own and that Parsons improperly underwrote part of her expenses during the second visit. She further maintains that Parsons improperly gave her $80 toward rent during the summer she spent in Columbia before enrolling at school.
Brown says she also told university officials that she believed recruiting rules were being violated. It was to substantiate one such charge, she said, that she hired a Columbia detective to stake out Parsons' residence. The detective reported that he established surveillance of Parsons' house at 6:50 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 2, 1980 and that Tina Buck, a visiting high school recruit from Atlanta, left the house with the coach and Singer at 9:58 a.m. Brown concluded that Buck had spent the night at the house, which is a 20-minute drive from campus, in apparent violation of an AIAW prohibition against off-campus recruiting.
Last May Parsons was relieved of her duties as women's athletic director and replaced by Ron Dickerson, a former Miami Dolphin defensive back, who took charge of all women's and non-revenue sports. But Parsons stayed on as coach, and there was no indication that school officials tried very hard to get to the bottom of the allegations made by Brown, Washington and Mason, or to hear what else they might have had to say. For example, all three have told SI that Parsons appeared to be "stoned" on marijuana during a road trip last year. In a particularly disturbing allegation, Brown says that she and Parsons collaborated to write as many as half a dozen term papers for players "if it meant the difference between passing and flunking. It was Pam's idea. She did the majority of the writing. I typed them."
Evelyn Johnson is another witness who contends that Parsons appeared to be stoned on a road trip. Johnson also makes an allegation about Singer. "She gave me money to buy drugs for her," Johnson says. "She wanted me to buy speed, pills—like uppers and downers. Not pot. She gave me $15 or $20 each time, once a week, for about two, three or four weeks. But I just kept the money. I felt funny about that. I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to do for her—like move something or help her clean. I told her my sources dried up. I knew Linda could have gotten the drugs herself. It's not that hard on a college campus. When she approached me, I thought, 'Now how stupid does this look? I'm sure you know just as many people as I know.' I felt like Linda and Pam were trying to set me up. It just wouldn't have looked good, Magic Johnson's sister caught for buying drugs." Singer, now living in Atlanta, declined to comment on any charges arising from her work at South Carolina.
What ultimately forced Parsons from her job was yet another stunning charge: that she had sexual relations with a player. Such an accusation would be no less unsettling if it involved a male-female or male-male liaison between coach and athlete. But it happens that speculation and anxiety about lesbianism are common among women basketball players and parents who fear that their daughters will be compromised by lesbian coaches. Not all women basketball coaches, certainly, are homosexual, nor do those who are necessarily get involved with, or impose their sexual preferences on, their players. Nevertheless, Kansas State Coach Lynn Hickey isn't alone in admitting that she has tried to allay fears on the subject by publishing photos of herself with her husband in media guides.
The South Carolina team had been awash with speculation that Parsons was "involved" with players or had made passes at one or another of them. One former team member who was rumored to have been propositioned admits that she's a lesbian and says that homosexuality is "all over the place," not only in women's sports but also in men's basketball and football. She says that Parsons had indicated she was a lesbian in their conversations. "She used to say to me, 'We have to be careful. If people knew, they'd hang us for what we are.' She told me she was in love with a particular woman but had to break up because it got to the point where the other woman was picking out her clothes for her." But the former player also says that while Parsons once invited her to accompany her to a gay bar in Atlanta, she declined the invitation and that Parsons had never made overt sexual advances toward her.
Brown and Mason draw damning inferences from some of Parsons' words and actions. "Pam recruited with sex in mind," says Brown. "I talked to a high school coach in Georgia the other day and he said, 'Karen, I never believed any of those stories about Pam. Until now. Pam is interested in Jane [fictitious name for the coach's star player]. She called and said, "Is Jane good-looking?" And I said, "Good-looking?" And she said, "Yeah, I only want good-looking girls on my team." And I said, "Well, coach, I only know how she plays basketball." ' "
Mason: "On my first recruiting visit to campus, Parsons felt my arm and said, 'It's so strong.' I looked at her and thought, 'What is with this lady?' In her office, she patted me on the rear end. It wasn't like it was in any athletic context or was a sending-me-off-in-the-world kind of thing. It really freaked me out. I got out of there fast. I didn't say anything to anybody about it. I tried to excuse it. She was always giving us compliments about our bodies. I felt funny about it. She thought Philicia [Philicia Allen, a 6'6" sophomore who quit the team last week] had nice legs. Philicia and I were together when she told Philicia that. And the way she looked at Philicia when she said it, I don't think she was joking."
It's conceivable that allegations by Mason and other players that Parsons acted suggestively toward them were the product of the vivid imaginations of young women who feared, or were infatuated with, so high-powered an authority figure. As Evelyn Johnson perceptively says, "A young girl might actually think she's fallen in love with Parsons, I guess. Maybe she never felt good about being so tall, so boyish, an athlete. And maybe she could never talk about it with anyone—then she meets Pam. And maybe she thinks she's in love." And maybe, in such cases, a player misconstrues a compliment or a smile or a squeeze of the arm. Johnson notes that Parsons herself may have fueled speculation by "always inviting the same favorite people out to dinner." Nor did Parsons end the whispers when, according to two witnesses, she embarrassed a player on a team bus last season by saying, in a loud, mocking tone, "What happened? You didn't come to my room last night." Johnson also says, "It seems to me that Parsons recruited very naive, almost dumb players and tried to bring them under her influence." Pat Mason concurs: "Some of her players were there physically, but mentally they were zombies."
Parsons' departure was melodramatic. The loss of Mason and Washington had been offset this season by the arrival of new stars, and the Lady Gamecocks were rolling right along until Dec. 31. That afternoon Dickerson paid a call at Parsons' house. When he emerged, he had in his possession a two-sentence handwritten note in which Parsons said she was resigning "due to serious conditions with my health." On New Year's Day, her 34th birthday, Parsons phoned the university and attempted to revoke the resignation. She also called reporters to say that she hadn't resigned and was in "perfect health." But James B. Holderman, president of the university, pointedly said that her resignation had been accepted. On Jan. 2, after beating St. Joseph's 50-48 in Philadelphia to run their record to 8-0, the Lady Gamecocks, now coached by Kelly, flew back to Columbia and were greeted in the middle of a drizzly night by the sight of Parsons holding a banner that read, in part, WELCOME HOME. I HAVE NOT RESIGNED! The message was signed YOURS IN SPORT, P². Mike Nemeth, the school's assistant sports information director, later said, "When I saw her holding that sign, I thought, 'Uh, oh, here we go again.' " That night Parsons sent a single silk red rose to each of her players as "a sign of love." Two days later, she resigned anew, this time for keeps. She had reached a settlement under which the university agreed to pay her $20,111.68. She cited "philosophical" differences with the school as the reason for her leaving.