Numerous Cal Swimmers Accuse Coach Teri McKeever of Verbal Abuse “For Decades”

Harrowing allegations surfaced Tuesday in a report where numerous current and former swimmers at the University of California claim they’ve been verbally abused by head women’s coach Teri McKeever for the past number of years.

In a lengthy report from The Orange County Register (OC Register), stemming from interviews with a Southern California News Group (SCNG) investigation, 19 current and former women’s team swimmers, six parents and one former member of the men’s team allege that McKeever has been verbally and emotionally abusing swimmers on the team on an almost daily basis “for decades.”

Danielle Carter, a swimmer who joined the Cal women’s team in the fall of 2019 and entered the NCAA transfer portal just months later, claims that McKeever accused her of lying about having epilepsy in the recruitment process, and would subsequently scream at her in nearly every practice. Carter’s claims were backed by five other Cal swimmers.

Swimmers recalled McKeever calling Carter “lazy,” “worthless,” “a waste of time,” and “a piece of (expletive).”

The verbal abuse led to Carter having difficulty sleeping, increased anxiety which included panic attacks, and an increase in seizures.

“It got to the point where I literally couldn’t take it anymore from Teri,” Carter told The OC Register. “I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to be alive anymore. That night I literally didn’t want to be alive. It was like, ‘OK, I’m ready to die. I want to kill myself. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to be alive.’”

After Carter got scared and texted a teammate, McKeever was informed of Carter’s incident, to which McKeever allegedly mocked.

“Teri literally laughed in my face and said, ‘Do you know how pathetic that is? How stupid that is? How selfish that is?’,” said Carter, who never competed as a Golden Bear and ended up transferring to UCSB.

Carter is one of at least six Cal women’s swimmers who have contemplated suicide since 2018 because of McKeever’s bullying, according to the SCNG investigation.

Six-time NCAA champion Cindy Tran, who swam at Cal from 2010 until 2014, said McKeever pushed them to the brink of taking their own life in their senior year.

Another swimmer, Chenoa Devine, said: “I didn’t want to exist in a world where I had to see Teri every day. I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t want to exist.”

“You live in constant dread because of Teri,” said Chloe Clark, another former Cal swimmer.

McKeever, 60, has been the Cal women’s head coach for the past 29 seasons, beginning back in 1993. She’s led the program to four NCAA titles, six Pac-12 Championship victories, and has served on three U.S. Olympic staffs. This included being named the head coach of the women’s team for the 2012 Games in London, making her the first and only female head coach of the U.S. Olympic swimming team.

According to three swimmers who were present at this past February’s Pac-12 Championships, McKeever said: “It kills me inside that you guys don’t appreciate being coached by the best coach in the world.”

The SCNG investigation revealed the following findings:

  • McKeever routinely bullies swimmers by screaming and/or swearing at them.
  • McKeever targets one, two or three swimmers each year for almost daily verbal and mental abuse.
  • McKeever routinely pressures swimmers to train and compete despite physical reasons for them to sit out.
  • McKeever recently used a racial epithet and profanities in disparaging rap music. Cal’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination has opened a formal investigation into the incident that will initially focus on potential racial discrimination and also possible discrimination based on sexual orientation and national origin. Five current swimmers also said McKeever complained that a current African American swimmer had too much “attitude.”
  • Two swimmers and their parents allege McKeever violated federal privacy laws by sharing a swimmer’s confidential medical information with the team.
  • 26 of 61 swimmers (42.6%) who joined the Cal women’s team as freshmen between 2013-14 and 2020-21 left the program before completing their NCAA eligibility. Four swimmers who competed in 2021-22 have transferred or entered the transfer portal.

SCNG reportedly contacted the Cal athletic department for an interview with McKeever. She declined to comment.

“Teri creates a culture of fear on that team,” said Nick Hart, a former member of the Cal men’s team, who is close friends with several athletes from the 2019-20 women’s team. “There are one or two people she dislikes and bags on them and if Teri doesn’t like that person, nobody is going to like her, because nobody wants the wrath of Teri.”

A current swimmer who wished to remain anonymous said she dreads “going to bed at night because I know when I wake up, I have to go to practice and deal with Teri.

“Swimming was my safe place. Now it’s the place I want to be the least.”

The report continues on to outline the attempts made by several swimmers and parents to inform the university of McKeever’s actions, but they have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Recently, four seniors on the 2021-22 roster met with Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton and executive senior associate athletics director Jennifer Simon-O’Neill and alleged bullying, verbal abuse and emotional abuse of McKeever.

Knowlton reportedly told the swimmers that McKeever was just a tough coach.

Darla Carter, Danielle’s mother, recalled requesting a meeting with Knowlton in the fall of 2019.

“It was almost like talking to a wall,” Carter said. “(Knowlton) said he wouldn’t meet with me unless I was alumni, a graduate or wanted to donate money.”

The OC Register also documents times when McKeever made light of swimmers dealing with eating disorders, along with other medical conditions, and that LGBTQ swimmers were often targets of McKeever’s alleged bullying.

You can read the full story from The OC Register here.

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1 year ago

She was also know to bully and berate other coaches on the swim and dive team as well. Everyone saw it and were fearful to go against her. The fear of her was real and proud of all the people coming out now. Bullying is not ok under any circumstance.

1 year ago

First hand experience with the Cal Swimming culture. If you think this problem ends with Terry you are wrong, Durden is part of the problem as well. Culture starts at the top and the Cal mens culture under Durden is to win at all cost. Win at the cost of the athlete, win at the cost of the student and win at the cost of the human being. He has an opportunity to have an impact on the whole person, the whole student athlete, the impressionable 18 year old kid yet he chooses winning at all cost even if it means the mental health of his swimmers. My heart breaks for every student athlete negatively affected by the Cal Men’s… Read more »

1 year ago

Maybe someone should retire!

1 year ago

I went through similar stuff on the women’s team at Stanford

Cece Niemantsverdriet
1 year ago

Sounds like a Marta Karoli.

No Diva
1 year ago

Any comment from Missy?

Reply to  No Diva
1 year ago

Missy left to go to Georgia. That’s comment enough!

Mama B
1 year ago

I am so proud these women came forward. No one should have to deal with this at any age. My daughter experienced mental abuse from an age group coach from age 13-15. Never again!

Anna Kalandadze
1 year ago

As one of the swimmers who experienced this abuse firsthand and came forward in the article, I can say that Teri’s favorite word was ‘accountability’, she preached it to us every day, yet there is absolutely no accountability about what was done to us coming from Teri or Cal.

When I was recruited, Teri and the team seemed like a close-knit family full of love and support. That is one of the main reasons I chose Cal. Found out it was the exact opposite my first day of practice.

I was called a piece of sh*t at almost every practice. I was told I was too heavy to be swimming and publicly asked what my eating habits were multiple… Read more »

Reply to  Anna Kalandadze
1 year ago

Very brave to come forward. Hope you recover and move forward in life with strength. And congrats on a great season at Penn.

Last edited 1 year ago by Snarky
Reply to  Anna Kalandadze
1 year ago

Love your courage to come forward and speak out -Wise decision to have Transferred. Best of Luck in the future as you move through life. Hopefully you can use all the lessons -Both the Good and Bad -from your years of swimming.
I watched you swim your way through MA LSC and PIAA District 1 -you have every reason to be proud of your time as a swimmer.

Swim mum
Reply to  Anna Kalandadze
1 year ago

I’m so sorry that happened to you. My son went through a similar experience in Australia. The long term psychological effects are far reaching & devastating

Reply to  Anna Kalandadze
1 year ago

Thank you for your courage Anna. And yes, I’m sure your family is very proud of you. Best of luck to you in the future.

Reply to  Anna Kalandadze
1 year ago

Teri sounds like a hypocrite

Reply to  Anna Kalandadze
1 year ago

Proud of you and it is comforting to know that there are great coaches out there who support their swimmers top to bottom.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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