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Cal swimmers urge university to ‘stop the abuse’ amid coach investigation

Cal swim coach Teri McKeever, shown at the 2019 NCAA championships, has been accused of fostering a toxic culture within the program. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

A group of 31 current and former Cal swimmers and 22 parents of swimmers sent a letter to the University of California, Berkeley chancellor and other university leaders last Wednesday calling on them to address the “toxic culture” within the program.

Teri McKeever, the coach of the women’s team, has been accused by Golden Bears swimmers of verbal and emotional abuse and bullying. The allegations first came to light in a bombshell report from the Orange County Register in May.

McKeever was placed on administrative leave in the aftermath of the report, and an investigation is ongoing.

“For us former swimmers, the consequences of McKeever’s coaching, the culture of fear and intimidation on the team, and the athletic department’s disappointing failure to protect its student-athletes have unfortunately followed us into adulthood,” reads the letter, as obtained by Just Women’s Sports. The letter also notes that in addition to the reports already made public, “many more stories” have not been shared.

The letter was sent via email to Carol Christ, the chancellor of UC Berkeley; Michael Drake, the president of the University of California system; Rich Leib, vice chair of the University of California board of regents; and other university leaders.

Swimmers who signed the letter include two-time NCAA champion Cindy Tran, NCAA finalist and two-time Big 12 champion Lindsey King, four-time world championship qualifier Sophia Batchelor and more. The swimmers’ careers with Cal ranged from 1990 to 2020.

Six swimmers who signed the letter chose not to give their names to the media, but they include an Olympic medalist, former team captains, NCAA champions and All-Americans. Per the letter, 15 other swimmers supported the message but chose to remain anonymous from the university leaders as well.

“In the weeks since the news broke, many of us have found solidarity and comfort in reconnecting with former teammates, supporting one another, and rebuilding the bonds that were broken by our isolating and traumatizing experiences at Cal,” the letter reads.

The swimmers and the parents who signed the letter pressed university leaders to protect the athletes still within the program.

“We expect you now to not let history repeat itself and urgently call on you to stop the abuse that continues with each new class,” they wrote. “As program alumnae, it is an understatement to say that we are very concerned that a toxic culture in the swimming program continues to reward coaches, protect predators, and safeguard those who use outdated and trauma-inducing tactics.”

Since 2018, at least six Cal women’s swimmers said they had made plans to kill themselves or dealt with weeks of suicidal ideation because of “what they describe as McKeever’s bullying,” the OC Register reported.

One swimmer penned an anonymous first-person essay for Sports Illustrated, affirming the abuse allegations and describing her own experiences.

In the wake of the allegations, Cal commissioned an independent investigation conducted by the law firm of Munger, Tolles and Olson. McKeever also is being investigated by the university’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination and by the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Dan Mogulof, an assistant vice chancellor at UC Berkeley, told Just Women’s Sports in a statement Saturday that the university would respond to the swimmers directly.

Katherine McAdoo, a former Cal swimmer who helped coordinate the letter, told Just Women’s Sports that those who sent the letter received a response from the university over the weekend. The group is currently meeting to discuss next steps.

Mogulof also said that the university is “acutely aware” that it has work to do in building and creating a culture that “provides an authentic sense of belonging, safety, respect and inclusion.”

The university is also implementing a new Presidential Policy on Abusive Conduct in the Workplace, “which will cover abusive conduct and retaliation in the workplace, including behavior by coaches,” Mogulof wrote.

As for the swim program, the women’s and men’s teams have been training together ahead of the upcoming NCAA season. Former men’s head coach Dave Durden will serve as acting director of both programs, and David Marsh will step in as associate head coach of the women’s program.

“The top priority for the coaching staff will be to create and maintain a positive environment and culture that will help support the swimmers’ aspirations and well-being in the pool, in their classes, in their lives beyond the campus,” Mogulof wrote.

The office of the University of California system president said in a statement to Just Women’s Sports that President Drake “is aware of the concerning allegations reported by our student athletes and supports the investigation currently underway.”

McKeever previously has declined to comment on the situation. Her attorney, Thomas Newkirk, has said that she is the victim of a double standard with respect to how male and female coaches are viewed and judged.

As head coach of the Cal women’s team since 1993, McKeever has led the Golden Bears to five Pac-12 titles and four NCAA championships. She has also served as a U.S. women’s swim coach for four Olympic Games, including as head coach in London in 2012, and has helped produce 26 Olympians from Cal who have gone on to win 36 medals.

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports.