Equal Opportunity Bullying

More reports of alleged abuse from female coaches

March 13, 2014 | By Allie Grasgreen | Inside Higher Ed.com

Carole Oglesby remembers emotional abuse from her college softball years. In one case, the WomenSport International vice president recalled, the female coach benched Oglesby, a top athlete and team starter, because of some personal beef. Bad luck for her parents, who had driven from Los Angeles to Phoenix to watch their daughter play in the two-day competition.

It’s clear that bullying and emotional abuse by coaches of any gender has deep roots. But several complaints and lawsuits in recent months focused more attention on behavior that people would historically expect to see more from men.

“A lot of the emotional and more militaristic and combative coaching is traditionally male,” Oglesby said. That’s the in-your-face, dominate-your-enemy, win-at-all-costs approach that rarely triggers a second thought when it’s seen in men’s sports. Female coaches, on the other hand, have tended to take the “mastery approach,” where winning is simply a byproduct of playing your best.

“[Emotional abuse] is global. It’s not new, but I do think there are some new considerations that contribute to what looks like are rising incidents,” said Oglesby, a professor emeritus of sport psychology at Temple University.

Among those factors: more women playing sports but fewer women coaching them, social media’s efficiency in dispersing information quickly, an arguably more sensitive generation of students, and an increased societal awareness of and willingness to speak out about bullying.

“This is not a new issue; however, it is one that has not been well-documented,” Christine Shelton, a professor of exercise and sport studies at Smith College, said in an email. “It would be difficult to say if there are more cases now, or if there is more student-athlete and parental awareness of athletes’ rights to have a safe place to play and compete.”

Boston University women’s basketball coach Kelly Greenberg is the latest to face accusations, after four players left the team this year and said they had been emotionally abused, in one case to the point that it triggered suicidal thoughts. The university is investigating the allegations against Greenberg, which are not a first: similar complaints were filed seven years ago.

Oakland University, meanwhile, says its former women’s basketball coach, Beckie Francis, obsessed over her players’ weight and forced her Christian views upon them. The university documented the “mental and emotional abuse” in a court filing responding to a lawsuit by Francis, who was fired in June.

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