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Cal fires longtime women's swimming coach Teri McKeever over alleged bullying, abuse

PIX Now 08:18

BERKELEY -- Longtime Cal women's swimming coach Teri McKeever, considered one of the most accomplished swimming coaches in U.S. history, has been fired after a months-long investigation by the university into reports of bullying, abuse and racial discrimination against student-athletes she coached.

Athletic Director Jim Knowlton made the announcement Tuesday, saying in a letter to the team and the Cal athletic department staff that the school parted ways with McKeever after three decades at the helm of the University of California, Berkeley women's swimming and diving program.

"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," Knowlton said in the letter.

Teri McKeever University of California, Berkeley

Knowlton wrote that "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."

The investigation was prompted by a May 2022 report in the Orange County Register in which student-athletes alleged constant verbal and emotional abuse by McKeever, racial epithets, body-shaming, and incessant pressure to train or compete despite illness or eating disorders. Some swimmers accused McKeever of lying about their conditions despite them being provided medical records.

According to the OC Register, McKeever allegedly verbally abused and bullied at least 19 former and current student-athletes. The allegations against McKeever date back to 2001 and former Cal Chancellor Robert Joseph Birgeneau was made aware of allegations against McKeever in 2010, according to the report. 

The university placed McKeever on paid administrative leave following the report's publication and hired an independent law firm to investigate the allegations. In August 2022, 27 Cal swimmers and 21 parents sent a letter to current Chancellor Carol Christ alleging that since the 1990s the university had failed to take action against McKeever over repeated and credible allegations of bullying and abuse of student-athletes.

The results of the investigation, issued earlier this month, substantiated many of the allegations against McKeever and said her alleged actions violated university policies prohibiting bullying and discrimination. The investigation by law firm Munger, Toles & Olsen, LLP found "by a preponderance of the evidence that Coach McKeever discriminated against certain student-athletes, in certain instances, on the basis of race, national origin and disability," 

Knowlton said Dave Durden would continue as Cal's Acting Director of Swimming & Diving, and that the department would quickly decide on permanent leadership for the program.

Current and former Cal swimmers have also called upon the university to fire Knowlton and executive senior associate athletic director Jennifer Simon-O'Neill, alleging both of them either ignored or failed to effectively address the repeated and credible allegations of bullying and harassment against McKeever, according to the OC Register.

In her 30-year career with Cal, McKeever guided the Golden Bears to four NCAA and five Pac-12 team championships. In 2022, the Bears extended their streak of top-5 finishes at the NCAA Championships to 15 years in a row - the longest run in the country. McKeever also earned her ninth Pac-12 Coach of the Year honor. In 2012, McKeever served as head coach of the U.S. Olympic women's swim team in London, garnering 13 medals for Team USA. 

Following word of her termination, McKeever issued a statement denying the allegations and her lawyer said she would file a lawsuit against the university alleging gender bias.

"During a 30-year career there are always those who take issue with my coaching style and me personally," said McKeever in a statement obtained by the publication SwimSwam. "I am a woman holding what is traditionally a man's job and double standards come with the territory. I also know for those that struggled with my coaching, there were far more who had their lives positively changed by their experience. I greatly value the bonds I made with hundreds of young women and look forward to continuing to witness their successes.

"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. 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," McKeever added. "I have been an open book in my coaching methods and administration knows and have fully approved of how I coach. Given that knowledge, the lack of support by CAL's administration has been heart breaking. I am the only coach, again female coach, to be subjected to a month's long investigation examining every mistake made over 30 years."

SwimSwam reported McKeever's attorney Thomas Newkirk called the process leading to his client's firing "one of the most disturbing displays of double standards and enabling of gender bias directed at a female coach," and cited Cal's handling of complaints against its women's soccer coach Neil McGuire in 2020 as an example. 

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