Former Cal All-American and 2016 Olympic Trials finalist Cassidy Bayer has spoken out publicly on her time at Berkeley under former head coach Teri McKeever for the first time.
Bayer appeared on the Falling Down The Rabbit Hole podcast with Kira Pomeranz on Monday, detailing her experience with the Golden Bears and some of the difficult circumstances she dealt with, including undergoing treatment for an eating disorder.
Bayer was one of the biggest up-and-coming stars in the country when she made her verbal commitment to Cal in May of 2017, coming off a breakout summer that included placing third in the women’s 200 fly and fourth in the 100 fly at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials as a 15-year-old.
During the podcast interview, Bayer said she was drawn to Cal because she believed it was the right program to ultimately get her to the Olympics, with McKeever, the only female head coach in U.S. Olympic swimming history, a big factor in that equation. Bayer also said she spoke to Cal alums such as Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer and Kathleen Baker, who encouraged her to join the program.
“These names were, to me, significant enough to just go, not knowing what I was getting myself into,” Bayer said of committing to Cal. “Because they’re great people, they mean well, they swim well. As a young swimmer, you want to be like that, you want to pursue those goals that they had attained. Teri was well-established as a female coach, and I respected that and still respect that.”
Although Bayer said she wanted to go somewhere where she would be pushed in practice every day, where she wasn’t the best swimmer on the team by a wide margin like she had been in age group swimming, she ultimately didn’t get the support she needed at Cal.
“Personally I needed more attention than I was offered there,” she said. “And when I say attention I mean support, I needed more feedback.”
She added that she had a strong relationship with her club coach, Nation’s Capital’s Jeff King, and expected the same to be true for college coaches, but that proved not to be the case.
In terms of McKeever’s conduct specifically, Bayer saw it as though the former coach would address any potential issue that came up immediately, thinking of the team and not necessarily worrying about how her actions would impact any one individual.
“I think some of my teammates can relate – when you go to Berkeley, you’re not an average swimmer, you’re essentially the best of the best,” said Bayer. “But for Berkeley’s sake and for the sake of our reputation essentially, Teri wasn’t wanting to risk it. If she saw something, in my eyes, if she saw something that was threatening to the team she would squash it real quick. And it didn’t matter if that affected that one person. She kind of saw it as, ‘well this affects one person but this would affect everyone’.”
Bayer noted that she was among the swimmers to speak out anonymously against McKeever in the investigation that ultimately resulted in her being fired, but added that McKeever is “not a completely bad (person).”
“She has made mistakes, and so have I. She may not have had the best outlook on some things and some topics and had taken charge of certain circumstances, and I’m really trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone can do what she did, so to some degree, I amend her for that, for sure. There were some days when I felt like she did see me. Unfortunately, those days were probably my hardest days, and I wish she could’ve seen me on some of my better days.”
Bayer says that due to the reputation of McKeever as an Olympic coach, along with the prestige of being a student-athlete at Cal, there was a disconnect in the relationship between coach and athlete on the women’s swim team.
“Because of her reputation and because it was kind of put on a pedestal to a lot of people for being an athlete on our team or being a new athlete on our team, you already had her on a pedestal. And I think that’s the first problem.
“With an athlete-coach relationship I think it should be, not necessarily equal, the coach has to have some sort of authority to push their athletes. And I think that was just taken to the extreme and anything that the girls did, they had Teri in the back of their mind.
“We would just send her texts saying we had an exam that we were going to miss practice and we would have four girls look over it and make sure there were no typos. Essentially she didn’t want you to waste her time, and I think that kind of built a wall as well.”
Bayer has been outspoken about her battle with an eating disorder, including taking an extended break out of the pool in January 2020 to address the issue and seek treatment.
During the podcast, Bayer detailed one occasion when she came back to training after seven months out of the water, her first of two four-month stints getting treated for an eating disorder.
On her first day back in training, Bayer was on her third workout of the day and was struggling in practice.
“There was a point where I could not finish a lap,” she said. “I just remember looking up at our assistant coach at the time and being like, ‘I can’t keep up. I don’t know how you want me to accommodate this. These intervals are not realistic.’ She said hold on let me go talk to Teri.
“Comes back, she says get out you’re done for the day. Teri didn’t want to talk to me. She told me to go home. I was going to quit that day. I was walking home, I was sobbing, calling my home coach Jeff King…and ended up in the hospital that night.”
Bayer doesn’t get into specifics but alludes to the fact she had suicidal thoughts.
“I called a dear friend of mine, who to this day, I owe her everything for that day.
“I didn’t really know who to call. So I called my friend, Elise Garcia, and I just feel bad for her seeing me in that state, you know? She drove me to the hospital and I just sat with those emotions. And that’s what it felt like to be really low.
“And I’m crying because I’ve just come so far and I’m nowhere close to that anymore. And you know, it’s crazy to think that something you love so much, like a sport you love so much can kill you on the inside.”
Garcia, who recently transferred to USC, also spoke out on her time with McKeever in a podcast earlier this month.
Bayer goes on to say she didn’t feel as though she had the proper support at Berkeley, including during her time dealing with the eating disorder.
“Yeah, I was struggling, I was losing weight. I was essentially in hospital care for about four months being monitored every night because my heart rate would get so low.”
Bayer only swam one full season at Cal, earning Honorable Mention All-American status in the women’s 200 fly at the 2019 NCAA Championships, placing 15th.
After taking an extended break out of the water to deal with an eating disorder at the beginning of 2020, Bayer announced her transfer to the University of Tennessee in October of that year.
She raced for the Lady Vols in a pair of meets in early 2021, and then in March, went back into treatment for an eating disorder. Although she had stated her intention to return to swimming in early 2022, Bayer ultimately announced her retirement from the sport in April 2022.
Bayer has recently graduated from the University of Tennessee and is set to begin a paid internship at Knoxville’s local NBC station, WBIR.
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You can listen to the full podcast here.
I don’t know McKeever nor anyone associated. But when i read all the horrible things said in the comments on this site, logic was telling me it wasn’t as bad as they were saying. I don’t know how it could be when the program was successful for so long under McKeever. So, it is very clarifying for me what Cassidy Bayer has stated. Very good for her. She recognized how the team and coaches operated, realized it wasn’t the right fit for her and left. And for very, very many others it worked out well for them. It seems to me that the gap is for those who for it is not the right situation, but don’t have the ability… Read more »
Hey everyone, it’s Kira host & creator of Failing Down the Rabbit Hole! Thank you so much for your support! Cassidy has always been my idol! Getting to talk with her and knowing she trusted me to tell her story has been incredible.
What I want to know is why didn’t her superstars like Baker, Vollmer, etc speak up during this investigation on behalf of what they saw? Or did they? THEY are the program, not Terri. THEY are/were the ones that put in the performances to elevate the reputation of their coach.
I do appreciate that Cassidy says that it’s complicated – Teri isn’t necessarily entirely a bad person, but a lot of girls were struggling and not getting the support they needed. These situations inevitably get simplified when retold online.
It’s hard to build a program of excellence, and really hard to keep that momentum going. I can see how it’s tempting to quash the troublesome situations and people, that seem like distractions from “success”. But not hearing about problems doesn’t make them go away. Sooner or later, you’ve built a toxic culture where your swimmers are afraid to approach you with problems, or even accept that it’s ok to have problems.
I hope other coaches are paying attention… Read more »
Part of being a good coach or good human being is knowing how to relate to people. It doesn’t seem like that was her best quality. It seems like they weren’t getting the support they needed becuase they felt uncomfortable/afraid to speak to her about their issues.
I appreciate that too. We all have to remember – and I think one of the authors said it here – is that this was always going to lead to a lawsuit, and we were only ever hearing everything filtered via a controlled relationship from lawyer ~~~> journalist. Maybe the athletes were speaking, but they were saying what their lawyers said they needed to say to give the lawsuit public support.
So was Teri bad? Probz. Should she have been coaching anymore? Probz not. But we have to consider the context. Always consider the context.
I think this is an accurate depiction. No one is all bad or all good. Successful coaches may feel increasing pressure to have their teams perform, and they can lose sight of the fact that these athletes are people. Also, Gen Z definitely responds to different types of motivation, and coaches need to adapt. Regardless, Teri appears to have lost her way and needed to be removed from her position.
This is heartbreaking to read. Teri seems to embody everything wrong with swimming
Let’s see, the best women’s coach (regardless of gender) of all time does not reside in swimming and the second best women’s coach (regardless of gender) of all time does not reside in swimming. Here’s a clue, it’s a Summer Olympics sport.
Similar situations happening at many other schools across the nation. I’ve heard Lars at UK has been suspended for weeks due to mistreatment of athletes. Similar situation but he hasn’t been fired yet.
How does this continue to happen? It’s 2023, have we not learned what inspires people to work harder? Coaches who belittle their athletes in an attempt to motivate them are dinosaurs.
The Assistant Coaches who don’t call them out are part of the problem too. Any school that only hires Assistant Coaches from their own program maybe have something to hide.
Is there a responsibility from other coaches to speak out when they see coaches verbally abusing swimmers at meets, conference and/or ncaa’s? Or is it just the responsibility of the schools to police?
Clearly the sport is not listening to the athletes..
I have talked swimmers out of going to UK because I observed how he mistreated female athletes and female coaches. I am stunned everyday he is at UK and allowed on a USA Swimming pool deck.
I really hope that Cassidy joins a Master’s team at some point and rediscovers her joy and love for the sport that lives in her mind and body!! She is a superstar and I know well how a demoralizing college coach can kill that relationship you have with swimming💗
Masters is fun
It is a lot of fun. More importantly, it’s quality of life for life.