Report: Allegations of Verbal Abuse, Bullying Levied at Cal Coach Teri McKeever; Cal Releases Statement

Teri McKeever; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Report: Allegations of Verbal Abuse, Bullying Levied at Cal Coach Teri McKeever

University of California swim coach Teri McKeever has been accused of verbal abuse and bullying that has led to athletes contemplating and even attempting suicide, an investigation by the Orange County Register has found.

The article, published Tuesday, spoke to 19 current and former athletes, including at least one who represented the United States internationally, and six parents. It begins with the story of Danielle Carter, who attempted suicide as a result of the bullying she endured at the hands of McKeever, one of at least six Cal swimmers since 2018 who have contemplated suicide. Carter and others accuse McKeever of favoritism to the point of verbal abuse and freezing out, creating a toxic culture and belittling physical and emotional difficulties.

The result of the interviews, the Register’s Scott M. Reid writes:

“portray McKeever as a bully who for decades has allegedly verbally and emotionally abused, swore at and threatened swimmers on an almost daily basis, pressured athletes to compete or train while injured or dealing with chronic illnesses or eating disorders, even accusing some women of lying about their conditions despite being provided medical records by them.”

It creates a complicated picture given McKeever’s role as a trailblazer for female swim coaches. The 60-year-old was, in 2012, the first female head coach of a U.S. Olympic team, a squad that featured six swimmers with Cal ties. A former swimmer at USC, she has spent 29 seasons in Berkeley, wining four NCAA team titles. In that time, Cal has produced 26 swimming Olympians accounting for 36 Olympic medals, including American superstars like Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin. In 2020, Cal signed McKeever to an extension through the 2023-24 season. She’s also a member of Cal’s athletic hall of fame.

The Register’s investigation includes allegations that, “McKeever recently used a racial epithet and profanities in disparaging rap music” in an issue that was referred to the University’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. All 19 swimmers interviewed told Reid that McKeever, “routinely bullies swimmers by screaming and/or swearing at them” and that McKeever, “each year targets one, two or three swimmers for almost daily bullying and verbal and mental abuse.” Two swimmers also said that McKeever shared their medical information, which is supposed to be confidential, with other team members or staff.

The investigation also found that from 2013-14 through 2020-21, 42.6 percent of incoming freshmen left the program before completing their eligibility, a number that does not include four swimmers that have transferred out of the 2021-22 roster. That 42 percent includes six swimmers of color who have left, out of 12 total.

“Teri is a really great swim coach,” said Nick Hart, a member of the men’s team who was close to a number of women on the team. “She knows what she’s talking about. But she creates an environment and a culture that is fear-based. I don’t think her team has a healthy culture or environment.”

The University of California released the following statement:

We are deeply concerned by what our student-athletes have reported to the Orange County Register. There is nothing more important to the university than the safety and well-being of our students, and it is that commitment which will guide and inform how we respond to all that has been reported.

The allegations described are serious and deeply disturbing in that they describe behavior antithetical to our values and policies. We are now, as always, encouraging current and former students to report behaviors and incidents that run counter to our policies and our values. We are now, as always, encouraging current and former students who may have been impacted to seek out support and assistance. We stand ready to help students in need connect with the appropriate campus resources and offices that offer support, guidance and assistance.

Unfortunately, due to stringent laws and policies protecting personnel issues and privacy, we are unable to address these allegations. We wish that were not the case given how serious these allegations are. Due to campus polices and confidentiality requirements, the campus cannot comment on matters of this nature (including whether a case does or does not exist) unless that case has resulted in a finding of violation of campus sexual violence/sexual harassment policy or nondiscrimination policy, and that case has resulted in disciplinary action.

Every member of our staff shares a strong commitment to the success of our student athletes – academically, athletically and developmentally. We have in place best-practice policies and procedures that enable Cal Athletics and the university to respond quickly and comprehensively when there are allegations of misconduct by coaches that are inconsistent with our values or applicable rules and policies.

The full article on Teri McKeever is here.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, looking for prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and for best practices for professionals in the United States. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website.

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1 month ago

People only have the power over you that you allow them to have

Kevin Pierce
30 days ago
Reply to  Virgil

Don’t be ridiculous. These are 18, 19 , 20 year old kids. For most of them this is their first time away from home and their parents. They all have put trust into Teri that she would take care of them and treat them right. They believed they were attending CAL to better themselves as student athletes as well as human beings. Obviously this was not the case. Teri used her position of authority to ruin lives and push girls to the brink of suicide. This was in no way the athletes fault.

As a coach you know there is a certain amount of power you hold over your athletes. What you do with that power makes you either a monster (like so many of he coaches you have read about the last few years) or a good person. I choose to be a good person.

David Coleman
28 days ago
Reply to  Virgil

What an absolutely delusional, victim-blaming perspective. I hope your children are never abused, and if they are I hope some coward on the internet doesn’t blame them for it.

Jennifer Parks
1 month ago

I left college coaching many years ago. Recently, I asked a former swimmer, why she thought swimmers wrote a
letter to get a new head coach. She said they, the women, needed a better recruiter. ( The men had extra $$ to recruit.) I asked if they really just wanted the new, young, head men’s coach to also be their coach? She told me that I seemed “very angry,” “tough.” I left that U. and coaching, despite the AD and Men’s Coach pleading for me to stay.

Since we have fewer and fewer Women head coaches in our sport, could it be that women athletes do not easily accept “tough” women coaches…or is it that young men athletes more easily accept “tough” men coaches? I think those are questions needing to be discussed, throughout the sport.

Teri McKeever has been held in high esteem by women coaches, and male coaches, as well.

Mary P Joyce
1 month ago
Reply to  Jennifer Parks

It is unfortunate that you seem to want to make male/female comparisons when the evidence makes clear the extent of abusiveness and toxicity in the Cal swimming program. Read the full article, and then see if you’re still so insouciant.

1 month ago

Sounds like Cal and Teri better get their checkbooks out.

Melon Dash
1 month ago

Sure, this shouldn’t happen. But there are a lot of men coaches who have done exactly the same thing. One of my fellow swimmers who swam for one of them told of a swimmer who did commit suicide and others who attempted it as well. Why have they not been caught and called out? It’s been happening for years. They are hugely successful coaches like Teri. Why are we only seeing this topic in an article written about a woman?

1 month ago
Reply to  Melon Dash

So there probably is a double standard. Maybe male athletes are used to abuse. And accept more of it. But fortunately the women in this case did not. I don’t know if coaching a group of collegiate women presents very different issues and a group ethos that men. But fortunately these women decided to speak up and do something about it. I don’t thing Teri is being targeted though. I think she is going to have to face the consequences of her coaching decisions if in fact what is reported turns out to be substantially true. But I agree with you that male coaches need a reckoning too. Maybe you can contact your fellow swimmer and urge him to contact his fellow swimmers and to come forward. #mycollegecoachtoo or something.

Fredrick J
30 days ago

Wrong is wrong. Who cares if she’s a woman. If these reports are true, she’s got to go.

Ryan Wade
30 days ago

I was a swimmer and water polo player at Fresno State when Teri McKeever started her college coaching career there. She coached both the Men’s and Women’s Swim teams. She was a great coach and good person. I have follow her success over the years with admiration. Sorry for the athletes that feel abused. I wish them and Teri well.

Suzanne Anderson
30 days ago

Why isn’t this report immediate grounds for dismissal?

robert kravutske
30 days ago

women want to treated equal to men…….ray bussard at tennessee was a S>O>B……..but they won……bear bryant worked his players to death in 100 degree heat……suck it up and work hard…..nothing comes easy……10 football players drop dead every year in football pads …… complaints from that community…….now that is tough!!!!

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