Monday, April 18, 2016

#PrayForTheVictims

Thursday night, as we were heading home from our track meet, one of the other coaches exclaimed, "Holy Shit!!!" as he was looking at the phone.  He then showed us a news report that the head softball coach at another high school in our district had been charged with sexual assault of a child after accusations of an improper relationship with a player on his team.  He then stated that the coach was on the run, a warrant had been issued, and police were seeking the public's help in locating him.

It was shocking, and the rest of us started to look at our phones as well hoping for any kind of information.  There really was nothing other than what we had already seen.  Even this morning when I looked, more news sources had run the story, but there was nothing that hadn't already been said.
About ten minutes before the end of my conference period, one of the other coaches came into my room.  He told me that they had found the coach, and that he had taken his own life.  I was asked not to say anything until the district had released a statement.

When I looked at the article in the Houston Chronicle, the comments were scathing.  People had already tried and convicted the man in the court of public opinion.  Some going so far as to say it was "the only right decision" he made.  Maybe he was guilty, and if so, he should have had to face justice, but then again, he wouldn't be the first teacher to have his career ruined by false accusations. Regardless of the truth, today we have to #PrayForTheVictims.

Who are the victims here?  Unfortunately, there are many.  Let's start with the obvious, the 16 year old girl at the heart of accusation that may have led to the coach's suicide. Regardless of whatever physical attributes this girl posses, she is still just a girl.  Despite the fact that most 16 year old kids think they know all there is to know, the reality is that they know very little.  Maybe she the victim of a predator, a man that abused his position of authority to take advantage of her,  or perhaps she had made advances and been rejected or had her playing time reduced and thought that making accusations would be a good way to get him back.  Sadly for her, there are many in the comments section of the paper that are more than ready to blame the victim and think she should be held accountable as well.  Regardless of the case, she is going to need support, support and more support.

The teachers, administrators he encountered every day are victims.  Many will be angry and feel betrayed.  They will wonder how they were "fooled" by this man.  Will they begin to doubt themselves, will they go back in their minds and replay every conversation they ever had, will they over analyze every clue they will think they missed?  It will be hard for all.  Some will be dragged in for repeated questioning, placed under undue stress, and have their professionalism called into question, and once they think it is over, have it happen all over again when the inevitable civil trials begin.   Others will look for some one to blame, as it makes most feel better when there is concrete blame assigned.  They will say they knew something was amiss, but no one would listen.  They will blame the culture of athletics and how people were more concerned with trophies and victories than academics and the students.

Speaking of students and athletes, imagine coming to school Friday morning with everyone abuzz about the accusations against the coach, only to find out that he was now dead by his own hand. There is a different bond between students/athletes and teachers than there is among colleagues. For many, a male teacher/coach is more than just a teacher.  They can serve as a father figure, a role model, and an inspiration.  The kind of anger and betrayal they experience will be different from that of the adults.  They may turn away from the adults, after all they were taught to trust them.  They may find different ways to act out in rebellion and will need ongoing support.

The most prominent victims are his wife and three kids.  First and foremost, they lost a husband and father respectively.  As if the shock of losing a loved one to suicide was not enough, now throw in the accusations and charges.  How can a family recover from such a thing?  The rumors and speculation are already overwhelming, how will they feel as the investigation continues and this man is dragged through the court of public opinion?

In the not so distant future, the investigation will conclude, the findings made public, the civil suits will be settled, the classes will graduate, a new coach will be hired, the team will take the field, the whole ugly incident will be talked about less and less, and life for many will go on.  unfortunately, life for the victims will change for ever.  There will be no forgetting, moving on, or getting over.  That is why I ask you one more time, #PrayForTheVictims.

Author's Note:  The above is my opinion, and my opinion only.  It is based on my experiences survivor of suicide, and a teacher/coach for 25 years.