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Sports psychologist weighs in: Was EKU softball coach abusive?

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Posted at 10:06 PM, Jul 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-13 11:03:01-04

RICHMOND, Ky. (LEX 18) — As an investigation into EKU softball coach Jane Worthington continues, a sports psychologist is weighing in on the allegations of “mental and verbal abuse” against her.

Jonathan Katz, a sports psychologist who has worked with multiple professional and collegiate teams, said it’s harder to determine if something should be classified as “emotional abuse” compared to sexual or physical abuse.

In general, he said, the determiner is what is healthy vs. unhealthy for the players. Destructive or emotionally abusive coaches combine poor performance on the field with who they are as a person.

“When we aren't having a good season we were constantly told that we were losers and that we were not even worthy to even be on the field,” said Kristin Perry Wiatrowski, who played for Worthington from 2009 to 2013. “That would turn into some pretty intense responses where she would, I think, there was one time our freshman year that after a game where we didn’t play well, we basically went to a gas station to choose what we wanted to eat.”

Wiatrowski described how players would go to the gymnasium and dive on the floor, just to prove they were willing to respond when she said something to us.

“There were just a lot of things like that, that were not right,” she said.

She is one of six former players LEX18 spoke with who shared similar complaints about Worthington being an abusive coach. It started with Kaitlyn Young, who was recently cut from the team, writing a lengthy post on Twitter.

"She was extremely mentally and verbally abusive, manipulative, and degraded us day after day, and just made me lose all my love for softball," Young told LEX18.

In a statement, EKU told LEX18 they consider the allegations to be serious, and they hope to do an expeditious investigation.

Katz said coaches should avoid constantly criticizing players, instead focusing on what they can do to improve. The former describes Worthington’s coaching style, Young said.

“[Worthington] did a lot more pushing, and a lot more of the breaking down than really the building up and support afterward,” said Nikki Bruce, another former player.

Multiple former players told LEX18 they felt Worthington played “mind games” on them, such as using the silent treatment or belittling them. Katz, who said mind games often code for a lack of open direct communication, said that is often unhealthy. Katz explained the best coaches communicate why they are doing things, understanding not all athletes may like it or agree.

Some players have come forward to defend Worthington. Dee Horswill said Worthington is very protective of her players.

“She would never abuse them mentally or physically or verbally,” Horswill said.

Two other former players LEX18 spoke with also defended Worthington. They said Worthington was tough, but in no way abusive.