Recognizing the Abusive Coach as Jekyll and Hyde

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It’s concerning that abusers get away with the harm they do, oftentimes for years. How do they succeed?

These are highly intelligent people.

One of the ways they appear to pass by the radar is by developing a Dr. Jekyll persona: pillar of society, well-loved, successful, and charismatic. Dr. Jekyll functions as an excellent cover up for the Mr. Hyde impulse within: violent temper, hated, destructive and harmful. When our sixteen year old son said to us “‘I hate those guys” in reference to his two coaches, we should have instantly realized he was describing ‘Mr. Hyde’ and fully protected him. Instead, we delayed because both of these coaches were teachers and were seen in the community by many as Dr. Jekyll-like figures. It’s very hard to question let alone critique these kinds of people. It wasn’t until we heard from thirty other parents that we realized we were not alone in wanting to protect our son and all children from them.

The Headmaster did not think parents’ concerns were enough. He asked for student testimonies. Even though the teachers were not suspended and in power, at least fourteen very brave students came forward with written testimonies. Covering five years, their testimonies described four teachers who worked together as coaches and presented frequently as Jekyll, but the students were asking for protection from their Hyde-like outbursts. One student described the female coach as if she has a split-personality:

[The coach] would blur the line between being your friend. She would play mind games. She’d joke around about boys. She would ask after girls and their boyfriends. She’d look at a guy and say, “he’s so cute. You should go talk to him” She was your buddy; then two minutes later, she’s screaming at you, swearing at you, saying, “we lost because of you.” Now I’m worthless on the court and it’s all my fault we lost.

Another student describes a different teacher while coaching and again there’s that dual personality being described:

. . .they make it confusing and stressful because they are different in the classroom than they are with the players. This makes it stressful all day for all the players because you don’t know if they are going to be nice or nasty when you run into them off the court. It would be better if they were nasty all the time really.

If you know you are going to run into someone who is nasty then when you see them you prepare yourself inside in a different way than if you can count on them to be nice. It’s like they’ve got a personality split and that makes all of school more stressful than it should be.

In recent years, coaches have been fired on university teams for demonstrating this kind of split: one moment, they’re the caring parent and the church-going citizen; next moment they’re hurling homophobic slurs at players on their team. In the media, basketball coach Doug Wojcik was described as a “Jekyll and Hyde” and essentially so was Rutgers’ basketball coach who was referred to as “the two Mike Rices.” Both were fired. Highly popular and charismatic CBC radio host, Jian Ghomeshi was also described in media as a “Jekyll and Hyde” due to his adored public persona, but his alleged private violence toward multiple women. He was fired too. More allegations that seem to reveal split personalities in recent high-profile figures: Jerry Sandusky and Bill Cosby. It’s fascinating that these two mens’ wives have stood behind them as they lean heavily on their Jekyll personas, in Sandusky’s case, while serving his jail sentence and Cosby’s case as he is trying to defend himself in court.

At the school I resigned from, the coaches were exonerated by school administrators, lawyers and educational authorities. All recognized with so many students from different years coming forward that there was a problem, but they all leaned on the Dr. Jekyll conduct and used it as a way to dismiss the Hyde-like conduct described by students. The story was covered extensively in national and local media. When the story broke, a handful of students lashed out attempting to defend one of the coaches. While they argued that it was not possible that he could have been verbally abusive, they ironically echoed the abusive words students reported the teacher used. The more they publicly tried to humiliate the students who spoke up, the more they made the case that that the pillar of society might well be teaching more than basketball to young, impressionable minds.

The students who came forward reported in testimonies and interviews that they were repeatedly sworn at; the boys were called “soft” and “pathetic” and “embarrassments” among other things. Furthermore, despite personally interviewing them, reading their accounts, and not having any reason to doubt their credibility, the Headmaster repeatedly has positioned the students who spoke up as liars. In the cyber-bullying that followed the media story, it was a repeat, but rather than the coaches, it was the students now who repeatedly swore and echoed both the coaches’ “soft”, “pathetic”, “embarrassing” terminology and also the Headmaster’s repeated insinuation that the students were lying. These students seemed to think that publicly attacking another individual’s character was acceptable and excusable. They seem to have learned their lessons well.

The workplace suffers from a bullying epidemic and one wonders where do students learn it from before they enter the work world? I can’t help but wonder if it’s not taught to them at school by the very people who, in their Dr. Jekyll persona, constantly speak about developing ‘character’ while they hide Mr. Hyde.

Maybe at some schools, they should be more clear about developing character and use a plural.



About Jennifer Fraser PhD

I am an author and educator. My latest book Teaching Bullies tells the story of 14 students who came forward to report on the verbal, emotional and some physical abuse at the hands of their teachers. How they were treated by school administrators, lawyers, and educational authorities is cause for alarm. The story is grounded in psychological, psychiatric, neuroscientific and sports journalism. It is a call to action for all those who want to protect children from bullying especially when it's done by teachers and coaches.
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3 Responses to Recognizing the Abusive Coach as Jekyll and Hyde

  1. Robert says:

    My son was playing basketball since 5th grade. For a private school. When enter 9th grade for johnstown high school he join the freshman basketball. He gave 110 % during practice and the coach seen it. So first game he didnt play.he was bench. By the fourth game he only played for 30 sec. I told my son to ask why he wasn’t playing. Couch said well work hard. So he did but no playing time. So mu wife one day ask why he wasn’t playing. He said well he wasn’t a he just move to johnstown and my wife said he live here all his life.then the coach said he a freshman. My wife said well isn’t this a freshman basketball ball. So I went to talk to the principal and said well it was my choice to put him into private. He live in johnstown. I said sounds like discrimination for him going to private school and told him I was as going to the papers about it. So half the season he played. 10 grade my son played cause of different coach. He started alot he played alot. Well this year my son comes up to me and said dad guess who is vs coach. I said no idea. He said freshman coach. He said he will try out but knowing his luck he wont make it. I said if you dont make it you automatically go back to jv. Well for three days the coach brag how he was doing. Son was happy and said to me wow he changed. Then the coach pulled him of to the side and said ” do I think your a vs player no I dont” ” no matter if you make the team you be lucky to get 30 sec of playing time to 1:30 for th eww whole season” then he said you have alot of Potential but no skill.” My son said well said sorry you feel that way but what you did to me in 9th grade sorry I’m not going threw that again. So my son been hurt and all tears anger about a week. I went to the sport director had a talk. I said everything what happened and he owed my son in front of a Apology. But never happen. What do I do next. To me its bullying and 8 dont want my kid going threw this and any other one

    • Hi Robert, I’m very sorry to hear this. My experience has been that it’s extremely difficult to address coaching abuse. One option is to ask for an outside assessor as abusive coaches may bench players as punishment or because they threaten the coach’s ego if they’re skilled. If possible, try and have your son play for a coach who is about player development, team building and competition. It’s healthy at least that your son is showing his emotional anger and hurt. Keep letting him know it’s not his fault and the behaviour of the adult is harmful.

      • Robert says:

        Sad part is that he cant play this year. He is hurt but he said they took the fun out of it. He already said he will be back next year and show the couch he doesn’t know what he doing. My son is a very good ball player. Yes as a father would say that but when guy you hear parents comming up to you and ask why isn’t your son playing all I say is ask the coach. It’s sad but I’m not done fighting it. I’m going to push this as far I can cause he is a bully and a bad coach . Alot of ppl say this and no kids should be talk to like this.

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