UC Berkeley fires swim coach Teri McKeever – Orange County Register
It was a day Cal swimmer Leann Toomey thought she would never see.
“Not in a million years,” Toomey said.
Toomey, a former All-America swimmer at Cal, is one of more than 40 women who alleged they were bullied by Teri McKeever, Cal’s groundbreaking women’s swimming head coach.
McKeever, the most successful female coach in swimming history and who led the Golden Bears to four NCAA team titles, was fired Tuesday after an eight-month university-commissioned investigation concluded that she discriminated against swimmers based on racial basis, national origin and disability, including using the n-word, and abused athletes in violation of university policy, the Southern California News Group has learned.
“They finally heard us,” Toomey said.
Attorneys hired by the university found after interviewing 147 people and reviewing 1700 documents that “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,” according to the investigation’s heavily redacted nearly 500-page report. The attorneys also found McKeever’s behavior “toward some, but not all, student-athletes in some instances was abuse and violated University policy.”
Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton, who has been heavily criticized by current and former Golden Bears swimmers for ignoring or dismissing credible complaints about McKeever’s behavior, apologized in a letter Cal swimmers Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m writing to inform you that today we have parted ways with long-time women’s swimming coach, Teri McKeever’” Knowlton wrote. “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.”
The university-commissioned probe was prompted by the publication of a Southern California News Group investigation May 24 that revealed that McKeever 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.
Read the full report
McKeever’s ouster also comes amid the widespread demand among current and former swimmers, their parents, alumni and others in the Cal community that the university also fire Knowlton and Jennifer Simon-O’Neill, McKeever’s close friend who as the executive senior associate athletic director had direct supervision over the Cal women’s swimming program for years. Critics allege that Simon-O’Neill, like Knowlton and other university officials, ignored or failed to effectively address repeated credible allegations of bullying and harassment against McKeever.
To date 44 current or former Cal swimmers, including Olympic medalists and NCAA champions, 23 parents, a member of the school’s men’s team, three former Cal coaches, a former administrator and an athletic department employee have told SCNG that McKeever, the only woman to serve as head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team, routinely bullied swimmers, often in deeply personal terms, or used embarrassing or traumatic experiences from their past against them, used racial epithets, body-shamed and pressured athletes to compete or train while injured. Swimmers and parents have also alleged that McKeever revealed medical information about athletes to other team members and coaches without their permission in violation of federal, state and university privacy laws and guidelines.
Nine Cal women’s swimmers, six since 2018, have told SCNG they made plans to kill themselves or obsessed about suicide for weeks or months because of what they describe as McKeever’s bullying.
“I didn’t want to exist in a world where I had to see Teri every day,” said former Cal distance swimming standout Chenoa Devine. “I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t want to exist.”
There was no financial settlement between the university and McKeever according to a university official. The investigation will cost Cal approximately $2 million, the official said. There was no university policy on abuse or bullying prior to 2016.
“The report is very disturbing, and I believe the outcome is appropriate. I reviewed and approved the AD’s letter to his staff. I fully agree with his objectives and trust his commitment to them. We must, as a campus and as a community, change the culture so this doesn’t happen again and do all that we can to eliminate abusive conduct and discrimination,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ.
Cal’s decision was met with mixed emotions from current and former Cal swimmers, several of whom said the university did not go far enough.
“I never thought this would happen,” said Toomey, who said McKeever’s alleged bullying continues to haunt her to the point that she attempted suicide in December 2018. “I want to see more than just Teri. This is a precedent setting case. This is the first step toward protecting other athletes in the future. This is the first step toward accountability.
“I’m elated she’s fired because that’s what she deserved. 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 was interviewed by attorneys hired by the university three times for a total of approximately 15 hours, according to the report. She was presented with a notice of the allegations against her on July 12. She filed a formal written complaint to the university on November 28 accusing the university of discrimination based on gender and being influenced by gender bias toward female coaches, the report said.
Thomas Newkirk, McKeever’s attorney, has charged that the allegations against McKeever are clouded by gender bias in the standards female coaches are held to.
“There was not one day in the last 30 years where I questioned what my job was,” McKeever said in a statement to SCNG. “I was charged with recruiting exceptionally talented young women and coaching them toward the goal of winning an NCAA National Championship. I loved my job, especially the challenge of taking an individual sport like swimming and making it about the team’s accomplishments. I invested my whole self into this mission of excellence in the pool, classroom and beyond. I am proud of being the only female in swimming history to lead women to not one, but four national championships and the only woman ever selected to serve on, not one, but four USA Olympic Swimming Coaching staffs.
“During a 30-year career there are always those who take issue with my coaching style and me personally. 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.”
Toomey and other current and former Cal swimmers dismissed McKeever and Newkirk’s argument that the former coach is the victim of gender bias.
“She can play the gender card but if a male coach had done what she did they would have been fired in a hot second,” Toomey said.
Cal placed McKeever, the 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s team head coach, on paid administrative leave on May 25, a day after the initial SCNG report was published. The university also hired a Los Angeles-based law firm to conduct an investigation into the allegations.
The investigation conducted by attorneys for Munger, Tolles & Olson “focused solely on evaluating whether Coach McKeever’s conduct violated applicable policies without regard to what other coaches’ methods also violated policies,” according to the report.
The report also acknowledged that the law firm “was not retained to investigate the University’s knowledge of Coach McKeever’s conduct or its past responses to allegations of misconduct by Coach McKeever.”
“This is a very important first step,” said Abi Speers, a former Cal swimmer. “But there’s still work to do to understand why abuse and reports of harassment were allowed to run unchecked for so many years.
Speers complained to Cal officials in 2014 about a series of “team-building exercises” during a squad retreat in Marin County in which athletes were pressured to reveal sexual secrets and other information about their personal lives.
It took the school’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination four years to respond to the complaint, according to emails obtained by SCNG and an interview with Speers. After a series of additional delays, a university official wrote, “We had a productive conversation” with McKeever, according to an email from the OHPD to Speers. “We discussed power dynamics, how words and actions can have a profound impact regardless of their intent, and ways to improve on the retreat in the coming years, among other things.
“Because this matter was resolved under our informal, preventative measure procedures, my office now considers this matter closed.”
“This case is a symptom of a system that has prioritized reputation over the health and safety of athletes for decades,” Speers said. “This decision, while a step forward doesn’t erase that.”
The Munger, Tolles & Olson investigation focused on six areas of allegations according to the report: “verbal abuse, targeting certain swimmers for abusive conduct, pressure to swim through injury, pressure to divulge personal information and/or mishandling personal information, and fostering a negative team environment.” The sixth area of focus is redacted in the report.
The OPHD last spring opened a formal investigation into allegations that McKeever used the n-word and profanities in disparaging rap music, according to five swimmers familiar with the conversation and an email to Cal detailing the incident. That investigation was taken over by the Munger, Tolles & Olson attorneys.
The investigation report confirmed earlier SCNG reporting that three current swimmers told university officials that McKeever used a racial slur during a practice in April and had bullied two African American swimmers and Emily Gantriis, an NCAA champion from Denmark.
McKeever also complained that a current African American swimmer had too much “attitude,” according to five current swimmers. Munger, Toles & Olson attorneys in the July 12 meeting provided McKeever with a 147-page summary and 144 exhibits related to the OPHD discrimination complaint, according to the report.
McKeever “mimicked the lyrics of rap songs and included the n-word in her mimicking,” the report said.
McKeever was also presented in the July 12 meeting with 247 pages of summaries of interviews and 46 exhibits related to allegations that she abused swimmers. Then current Cal swimmers informed Knowlton and Simon-O’Neill in exit interviews about “several concerns” the swimmers viewed as McKeever’s “emotional abuse,” according to the report. Senior swimmers also reported to Knowlton and Simon-O’Neill that McKeever had called a swimmer “fat.”
The U.S. Center for SafeSport launched an investigation of McKeever following the SCNG reports. USA Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, was made aware of allegations of McKeever’s bullying in 2015 but named her to the 2019 World Championships coaching staff and that same year elected her as chair of the organization’s national team steering committee and its representative on USA Swimming’s board of directors.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport completed the initial phase of its investigation in October, according to six people familiar with the investigation. Center investigators interviewed approximately 60 current and former swimmers, parents and others familiar with the Cal program during the more than four-month-long probe, according to people familiar with the investigation. A report on the probe’s findings is likely still months away.
Complaints about McKeever’s treatment of swimmers to the Cal administration and top athletic department officials date back to at least Jan. 13, 2010 when Golden Bears swimmer Jenna Rais in a letter to then-University of California chancellor Robert Joseph Birgeneau alleged she had been verbally abused and bullied by McKeever.
University administration and athletic department officials including Knowlton, Simon-O’Neill and Sandy Barbour, Cal’s athletic director from 2004 to 2014, received more than 30 complaints from Cal swimmers or their parents alleging bullying behavior by McKeever over the 12 years following Rais’ letter. One of those complaints in 2018 prompted a university official to acknowledge she would review the school’s bullying, sexual violence and sexual harassment and non-discrimination policies with the coach, according to interviews, university documents and emails obtained by the Southern California News Group.
Despite the repeated complaints, Cal has paid McKeever, 60, just under $3 million in total compensation since 2010 and given her eight raises in her base pay between 2010 and 2019, according to her contract and other university financial records. McKeever’s annual base salary has increased by more than 77% since 2010.
The base salary raises and increased compensation for McKeever despite the steady stream of complaints, current and former swimmers and their parents said, show that Knowlton, Simon-O’Neill and other Cal administrators did not listen to them and that the university has prioritized athletic success over athlete well being.
McKeever is the most well known female coach in swimming. She was the first and only woman head coach of the U.S. Olympic team, leading a squad that included six future, current or former Cal swimmers who earned a combined 13 medals at the London Games. In 29 seasons in Berkeley, she had coached 26 Olympians who have combined for 36 Olympic medals. She has also coached eight national college swimmers of the year and the Golden Bears have won 66 NCAA individual or relay titles.
It was McKeever’s resume and her recruiting pitch about empowering women that attracted many of the nation’s top female swimmers to Berkeley.
Some would find Olympic glory. Yet dozens more, including Olympic gold medalists and NCAA champions, said they continue to be haunted by McKeever’s alleged abuse.
“For nearly 20 years I have suffered from my time at Cal,” said Katherine McAdoo, who swam for the Golden Bears in the early 2000s. “And now I can start the healing process along with the other Cal alums.”
UC Berkeley swimmers allege coach Teri McKeever bullied and verbally abused them for years
UC Berkeley places swim coach Teri McKeever on administrative leave
Ex-UC Berkeley swimmer on McKeever: ‘I honestly didn’t know how far she would go’
McKeever’s bullying led to lifelong issues, more former UC Berkeley swimmers allege
NCAA swimming champion details coach Teri McKeever’s bullying last season at UC Berkeley
https://www.ocregister.com/2023/01/31/breaking-news-cal-fires-teri-mckeever/ UC Berkeley fires swim coach Teri McKeever – Orange County Register