Recognizing the Abusive Coach as Jekyll and Hyde

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 3.18.01 PM

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.
This entry was posted in Bullying, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s