Content warning: This story contains graphic language of abusive nature.
Teri McKeever, the swim and diving coach at University of California-Berkeley, has reportedly been accused of running a “toxic” culture as more than a dozen swimmers accused her of “bullying” and emotional abuse of athletes in the program.
According to a report by The Orange County Register, 19 current and former Cal swimmers, six parents and a past member of the Golden Bears men’s swim team described allegations of McKeever “verbally and emotionally” abusing athletes and coercing them to train while dealing with “illnesses”, “eating disorders” and accusing some of lying about medical conditions despite athletes having their medical records.
According to several of the swimmers, the university’s administration has done nothing to hold McKeever accountable for her destructive culture in the program as the widely successful coach has led Cal to six Pac-12 swim championships and four NCAA championships. Scott Carter, the father to former Cal swimmer Danielle Carter, referred to McKeever as “Teflon Teri, nothing sticks to her.”
McKeever accused Carter that she was lying about having epilepsy and that the ex-swimmer lied to the program’s coaches in her recruitment process. However, according to Carter, there were days where she was so stressed that she could not eat, could not focus on class and days where she had numerous panic attacks that led to an increase of seizures.
McKeever reportedly called Carter a “waste of time” and “a piece of (expletive)” during practice. Carter said the abusive behavior led her to the brink of self harm.
Cindy Tran, a six-time NCAA champion who swam at Cal, also said McKeever’s bullying was noticed during her Golden Bears tenure from 2010 to ’14, saying she did things at the program “out of fear of getting yelled at.”
Even more, Tran also said the swim team was “extremely homophobic” and that McKeever forced her to come out when she found out she was dating a teammate in 2014. “I was the first person in the program’s history to openly come out,” Tran said. “We came out against our will.”
A current member of the Cal’s swim team, who did not want to be identified in the story, said she dreaded waking up the next day and going to practice. “Swimming was my safe place,” the unidentified swimmer said. “Now it’s the place I want to be the least.”
More than 60 swimmers joined the Golden Bears swim team as freshmen from 2013-14 to 2020-21. Of the 61 who made the team, 26 exited the program before finishing their NCAA eligibility. Even more, four swimmers on this year’s roster transferred or entered the NCAA transfer portal since the season ended in March, and six of the program’s dozen swimmers of color who joined the team from 2013 to ’21 also exited the program before their eligibility ended.
A Cal spokesperson told The Register that McKeever declined to comment on the report. The university has reportedly received complaints about bullying and verbal and emotional abuse since 2014.
However, recently four seniors on this year’s team discussed the alleged bullying and abuse with Cal athletics director, Jim Knowlton, and the university’s executive senior associate athletics director and senior administrator Jennifer Simon-O’Neil.
Those complaints were reportedly “met with indifference.”