Yahoo Sports

Cal fires longtime swimming coach Teri McKeever after spate of bullying, abuse allegations

5 min read

The University of California has fired longtime women's swimming and diving coach Teri McKeever following an eight-month investigation into widespread allegations of bullying and abuse.

Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton announced the decision on Tuesday in a letter to student-athletes. The decision arrived after an extensive investigation that involved interviews with 147 people and reviews of 1,700 documents conducted by university lawyers, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

"I'm writing to inform you that today we have parted ways with long-time women’s swimming coach, Teri McKeever," Knowlton's letter reads. "After carefully reviewing an extensive investigative report that was recently completed by an independent law firm, I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program, and Cal Athletics as a whole.

"The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin, and disability discrimination. The report also details verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values. I was disturbed by what I learned in the course of reading through the report's 482 pages that substantiate far too many allegations of unacceptable behavior. I want to apologize, on behalf of Cal Athletics, to every student-athlete who was subject to this conduct in the past, and I want to thank everyone who had the courage to come forward and share their story with the investigators."

Per the Mercury News, 44 current or former Cal swimmers and 23 parents are among a group that also includes former coaches and administrators who accused McKeever of routine bullying that included body shaming, personal insults, racial epithets and pressure to compete while ill or injured.

The complaints date back to January 2010 when former Cal swimmer Jenna Rais wrote to then-chancellor Robert Joseph Birgeneau with allegations that she had experienced abuse by McKeever. Since then, McKeever has been allowed to coach at Cal for 11 more years amid an influx of allegations.

She was placed on administrative leave last May when the allegations came to light via an investigation by the Southern California News Group. The Mercury News reports that she's made more than $3 million over those years while receiving eight pay raises. Cal won national championships in 2011, 2015 and 2019 during that timeframe.

Former Cal swimmer Danielle Carter told the Orange County Register last May that McKeever's alleged abuse prompted her to consider suicide in 2019.

"It got to the point where I literally couldn't take it anymore from Teri," Carter said. "I can't do this anymore. I don't want to be alive anymore. That night I literally didn't want to be alive. It was like, 'OK, I'm ready to die. I want to kill myself. I don't want to do this anymore. I don't want to be alive.'"

Carter said that she texted teammates that night instead for support. She told the Register that McKeever ridiculed her the next day when she informed her coach that she had contemplated suicide. Per the SCNG investigation, Carter was one of at least six Cal swimmers since 2018 who contemplated suicide because of McKeever's alleged bullying.

According to the SCNG investigation that included interviews with 19 current or former Cal swimmers, McKeever's targeted up to three swimmers each year for almost daily bullying and mental abuse. LGBTQ swimmers were often the subjects of her bullying, per the report.

Ex-Cal swimmer Leann Toomey says that McKeever's alleged abuse prompted her to attempt suicide in 2018. She told the Register on Tuesday that McKeever got "what she deserved" with her dismissal.

"I'm elated she's fired because that's what she deserved," Toomey said. "This is not just a slap on the hand or 'oh, we’re really sorry, we're going to talk to her and make sure it doesn't happen again.'

"For years I had to suffer alone and to think maybe there was something wrong with me, maybe Teri was right, I just wasn't tough enough. But now I know the abuse was real."

McKeever released a statement through her attorney, Thomas Newkirk, on Tuesday acknowledging her termination and denying the allegations against her. She plans to file a lawsuit against the university, according to Newkirk, who says the investigation was a product of gender bias.

"I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation," McKeever's statement reads. "There were and should be consequences for violating team rules, not showing up for scheduled appointments, misusing resources, not giving an honest effort and behavior that was not congruent with their individual or our team goals.

"But those consequences were not applied because of who someone was, only for what they did or didn't do that hurt the team and the culture we were working hard to sustain. I am terribly disappointed and saddened at the way in which the investigation process was conducted. I have been an open book in my coaching methods and administration knows and have fully approved of how I coach."

McKeever is a legend in the sport, having coached Cal to four NCAA titles in 29 seasons as coach. She also coached the U.S. women at the 2012 London Olympics, where six current, future or former Cal swimmers earned 13 medals. Six National Swimmers of the Year have competed for McKeever at Cal, including Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin. In total, 26 swimmers who McKeever coached won a combined 36 Olympic medals. She was a nine-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year.