Teri McKeever was fired as the University of California women’s swim coach on Tuesday after 29 years in charge. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
The University of California has fired longtime swimming and diving instructor Teri McKeever following an eight-month investigation into widespread allegations of bullying and abuse.
Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton announced the decision Tuesday in a letter to student-athletes. The decision came after an extensive investigation involving interviews with 147 people and reviews of 1,700 documents conducted by university attorneys, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
“I am writing to inform you that today we parted ways with longtime women’s swim coach, Teri McKeever,” Knowlton’s letter read. “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 swim program, and Cal Athletics as a whole.
“The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit racial, national, and disability discrimination. The report also details verbally abusive behavior that is antithetical to our most important values. I was shocked by what I learned in the course of reading of the 482-page report confirming too many allegations of unacceptable behavior. I want to apologize, on behalf of Cal Athletics, to every student-athlete who has been subjected to this behavior in the past, and I want to thank everyone who has had the courage to come forward and share their story with the detectives.”
According to the Mercury News, 44 current or former Cal swimmers and 23 parents are part of a group that also includes former coaches and administrators who accused McKeever of routine bullying that included body shaming, personal name-calling, racial name-calling and pressure to compete. while he was ill or injured.
The complaints date back to January 2010, when former Cal swimmer Jenna Rais wrote to then chancellor Robert Joseph Birgeneau alleging that she had been abused by McKeever. Since then, McKeever has been allowed to coach at Cal for another 11 years amid an influx of allegations.
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She was placed on administrative leave last May when the allegations came to light through an investigation by the Southern California News Group. The Mercury News reports that she made more than $3 million in those years while receiving eight pay raises. Cal won national championships in 2011, 2015 and 2019 during that time.
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 from Teri anymore,” 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 he texted teammates that evening for support. He told the record that McKeever ridiculed her the next day when he informed her coach that he had contemplated suicide. According to the SCNG investigation, Carter was one of at least six Cal swimmers since 2018 who contemplated suicide as a result of McKeever’s alleged bullying.
According to the SCNG investigation that included interviews with 19 current or former Cal swimmers, McKeever targeted up to three swimmers each year for almost daily bullying and mental abuse. LGBTQ swimmers were often subjected to her bullying, according to the report.
Former Cal swimmer Leann Toomey says 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 firing.
“I’m glad she got fired because that’s what she deserved,” Toomey said. “This isn’t just a slap on the hand or ‘oh, she’s really sorry, we’ll talk to her and make sure she doesn’t happen again.’
“For years I had to suffer alone and 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, acknowledging her dismissal 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 unequivocally deny and refute all allegations that I abused or bullied any athlete, and I deny any suggestions that I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability, or sexual orientation,” McKeever’s statement read. “There were and should be consequences for breaking team rules, failing to show up for scheduled appointments, misusing resources, failing to make an honest effort, and behaving inconsistent with our team or individual goals.
“But those consequences weren’t enforced because of who someone was, just because of what they did or didn’t do that hurt the team and the culture we were working so hard to sustain. I’m terribly disappointed and saddened by the way l “Process investigation has been conducted. I have been an open book in my coaching methods and management knows this and has fully endorsed the way I coach.”
McKeever is a legend in the sport, having coached Cal to four NCAA titles in 29 seasons as a coach. He also coached US women at the 2012 London Olympics, where six current, future, or ex-Cal swimmers won 13 medals. Six National Swimmers of the Year competed for McKeever at Cal, including Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin. In total, 26 swimmers coached by McKeever have won a total of 36 Olympic medals. She was a nine-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year.