A recent member of the Cal women’s swim team wrote a firsthand account published by Sports Illustrated on Tuesday that described the abusive behavior she says she witnessed from longtime head coach Teri McKeever.
The anonymous author began by noting that swimming for Cal had been a lifelong dream for her. But once she arrived on campus, she said McKeever routinely attacked the character of her teammates and even chastised them for physical challenges such as Crohn’s disease, eating disorders, and injuries.
McKeever was placed on administrative leave in late May following allegations of abuse by dozens of former swimmers and parents. In 29 seasons at the helm of the program, she helped bring four NCAA titles to Berkeley while producing 26 Olympians who combined for 36 medals.
At first, she said that legacy created “an aura of invincibility that initially convinced me that this form of discipline and control was required to vie for a national title.”
“Now, I blame myself for not seeing sooner that Teri’s criticisms and attacks were systematic,” she continued. “Watching Teri reduce a teammate to tears in the middle of practice happened so many times that it became normalized. These episodes were never addressed; we would just swim through it all.
“Watching a teammate getting belittled to the point of despair and knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it was the most powerless I’ve ever felt in my life.”
When she was chosen for a leadership position as a senior, she says she was punished for her kindness toward targeted teammates.
“I recall being reprimanded for comforting a crying teammate or ‘wasting my energy’ on someone who ‘didn’t bring value to the team,’” she wrote. “On multiple occasions, she implied that care for others inhibited my own swimming and insisted that I focus on myself. She portrayed some of my teammates as vampires who were sucking the life out of me and giving me nothing in return.
“But she could not dissuade me from helping my friends through some of the darkest times of their lives. The hours I spent offering advice and consolation were emotionally exhausting to me, but well worth it. Somehow, Teri failed to comprehend something that I knew. It wasn’t my teammates’ fault I was spending so much energy this way. It was hers.
“I am only now beginning to realize how much she messed with my head.”
She also addressed those who have defended McKeever in the month since the allegations first surfaced publicly.
“I know that several previous and current team members say they had positive experiences with Teri, and they certainly may have,” she wrote. “I also know every single member of my team witnessed Teri’s abusive behavior. Just because some of the people on the team were not directly affected by the abuse does not mean that it did not happen.”
McKeever’s lawyer, Thomas Newkirk, responded to the essay with a statement.
“Teri McKeever asked me to respond to this Essay and other claims about her, not simply to deny claims as lawyers do, but to educate on the challenges facing female coaches around the country,” he wrote. “These allegations are similar to a number of other bias-driven claims leveled primarily at female coaches. These student-athlete complaints are directed at women and label female coaches as bullies for engaging in normal coaching behavior. This is a national epidemic that is mowing down great female coaches, undermining women’s rights, and threatening the future of the profession of coaching. … I have identified 200 female coaches and counting who are simply coaching just like men but are being mowed down by bias-driven complaints.”
Newkirk called the essay nonspecific, adding that the allegations are “focused on the emotions and feelings of the athletes rather than McKeever’s actual behavior. They are filtering their feelings and the behavior of their female coach via a lens forged by our expectations of what women are supposed to do, compared to what men are supposed to do.”