Renowned Cal female swim coach accused in newspaper article of toxic bullying and racism

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More than two dozen UC Berkeley student athletes, former athletes and parents have accused the women’s swim team’s longtime head coach of bullying behavior so toxic that several swimmers have considered suicide over the years and others have left the team.

Allegations of verbal, emotional, homophobic and racist abuse of Teri McKeever, 60, whose career at Cal spans three decades and includes several stints as coach of the United States Women’s Olympic Swimming Team, have was first reported Tuesday in the Orange County Registry.

The outlet conducted comprehensive interviews with 19 current and former Cal swimmers, six parents and one former male Cal swimmer, who together painted a portrait of a university that has repeatedly ignored or only mildly addressed Numerous complaints about McKeever since at least 2014. Avoids naming current students but identifies several former students, including two out of six who said they considered suicide because of the coach.

“I don’t think it’s in my interest to comment,” McKeever told the Chronicle by phone Tuesday.

A UC Berkeley spokesperson declined to comment on the allegations or confirm whether the university was investigating them, citing staff privacy laws and policies. The campus released a statement calling the charges “serious and deeply troubling” and included its anti-harassment procedures for employees. An investigation takes two to three months and can be extended, the document says. The university then has 40 days to advise the employee what action, if any, will be taken.

“We now, as always, encourage current and former students who may have been affected to seek support and assistance,” the statement read.

The Register reported that the campus Office for Harassment and Discrimination Prevention is looking into an allegation by several swimmers that McKeever recently used a racial epithet and slurs about rap music, and that the investigation could be enlarged. The university would not confirm this.

Former Cal swimmer Chenoa Devine, 23, of Oakland, said she didn’t expect the university to take action. She was among the students interviewed for the registry story but did not file a formal complaint.

“I learned not to expect anything from the athletic department or the administration,” she told The Chronicle. “Based on my experience and how many girls there were before me, they buried any (complaints) that came up. I didn’t expect any protection and any response.

Devine was drafted to Cal’s swim team in 2016, despite her club team coaches in Davis warning her not to accept after hearing stories about McKeever, she said.

But the lure of UC Berkeley was too great. She agreed – then was shocked that even her coaches didn’t know how bad it was, she said.

A long-distance swimmer, Devine had a “pretty fantastic” first year and qualified for the NCAA. In her sophomore year, she missed qualifying by seconds in the 16-minute race and was named second alternate.

That’s when McKeever “started verbally insulting me,” she said. The coach’s pattern was to pick one person to scold each day, and one of Devine’s friends on the team had already quit because of it, she said. Now it seemed like it was her turn.

“Not only was I isolated, but she was yelling profanity at me,” Devine recalled. “She questioned my motivations, my reasons for being a swimmer. She said if I didn’t like it, I should leave.

The former Cal swimmer said she had no idea why the coach was so angry with her and thought it was her fault.

“I almost felt crazy for feeling bad about it. I thought I must have done something wrong. she says. But Devine felt unable to complain because she was a scholarship holder and, she said, McKeever had threatened to take it away from her.

The Registry article reports that 14 women said they were targeted by McKeever, while a total of 19 witnessed abuse. Some told the outlet that LGBTQ swimmers were particular targets and that the coach forced an athlete out in 2014 after she started dating a teammate.

The outlet reported that five current swimmers and two others familiar with college complaints also said the campus had received “multiple complaints regarding McKeever’s alleged bullying of an African American and a foreign swimmer on the roster. 2021-22”.

The article also included information about contacting the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, at 1-800-273-8255, as several former swimmers said they had contemplated suicide. Some have accused McKeever of responding with insensitivity after learning of the plans.

Meanwhile, McKeever was also cultivating Olympic medalists: Natalie Coughlin, Missy Franklin and Rachel Bootsma among them. And she brought prestige to campus, serving in various Olympic and championship coaching positions before becoming head coach of the United States women’s swim team at the 2012 Olympics.

While student athletes reportedly quit, blame themselves or contemplate suicide because of their treatment on the team, UC Berkeley increased their coach’s salary.

A review of the Public Records Chronicle shows McKeever’s salary increased from $191,165 in 2014 to $250,500 in 2020, a 31% increase.

Nanette Asimov is an editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @NanetteAsimov

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