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Former Cal swimmer describes coach Teri McKeever’s ‘abusive behavior’

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 member of the Cal women’s swim team penned an anonymous first-person essay for Sports Illustrated that delves into the recent allegations that coach Teri McKeever has been verbally and emotionally abusive.

The swimmer calls swimming for Cal a “lifelong dream” in the essay published Tuesday. But once she joined the program, she became disillusioned.

“Almost immediately, I began witnessing Teri’s verbally abusive behavior on the pool deck,” she wrote. “She would target a small group of my teammates and systematically isolate these women from the rest of the team. She would yell at them throughout our daily practices and routinely attack their characters. She portrayed them to the rest of us as lazy, not working hard enough through injuries or other problems.”

In the initial article from the Orange County Register, more than 20 current and former Cal swimmers have accused McKeever of creating a toxic environment within the program.

The swimmer writes that the culture of the program surrounding McKeever – her success and Olympic resume – created an “aura of invincibility.” The swimmer says she began to rationalize the behavior as necessary in order to compete at a higher level and accomplish team goals.

“As time went on, I realized that Teri’s manipulation had a stronghold over the entire team,” she continued. “She elevated the swimmers she liked to positions of power and then used them to enforce her will and isolate those on her s— list. All of us feared the consequences of a minor misstep.”

Since the abuse allegations came to light in May, McKeever has been placed on administrative leave and is under investigation.

McKeever, 60, was the U.S. women’s team head coach during the 2012 Olympics. During her almost 30 years at Cal, the women’s team has won six Pac-12 swimming championships and four NCAA titles.

In response to request for comment on the Sports Illustrated article, McKeever’s lawyer Thomas Newkirk responded, calling the allegations a “national epidemic” and characterizing them as “focused on the emotions and feelings of the athletes rather than McKeever’s actual behavior.”

“These student-athlete complaints are directed at women and label female coaches as bullies for engaging in normal coaching behavior,” he continued. “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.”