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.