Cal swim coach, accused of years of student-athlete abuse, is fired. She plans to sue

FILE -U.S. Olympic team head coach Teri McKeever speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Sunday, June 24, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. Longtime University of California women's swimming coach Teri McKeever was fired Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023 following an investigation into alleged harassment, bullying and verbally abusive conduct, the school said in a statement. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Teri McKeever speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials on June 24, 2012. (Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)
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For 20 years, Teri McKeever led the UC Berkeley women's swimming and diving program to great success, winning multiple NCAA championships.

And her achievements were not limited to the collegiate level — in 2012 she became the first female coach of the U.S. women's swim team at the London Olympics.

McKeever, however, was also demeaning student athletes in her Cal program, discriminating against swimmers based on race or disabilities and using abusive language, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the school last year.

The investigation was prompted by numerous allegations against the coach, some of which were published last year in a series of articles by the Orange County Register, and resulted in a nearly 500-page report.

McKeever was fired from her position at Cal this week after being placed on leave in May.

"The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin, and disability discrimination," Cal Athletic Director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the swimming and diving program.

"I was disturbed by what I learned in the course of reading through the report's 482 pages that substantiate far too many allegations of unacceptable behavior," Knowlton wrote. "I want to apologize, on behalf of Cal Athletics, to every student-athlete who was subject to this conduct in the past."

McKeever denied any wrongdoing, and plans to file a lawsuit against the school.

"I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation," McKeever said in a statement.

McKeever said she had been open about her coaching methods and that the "administration knows and have fully approved of how I coach."

"During a 30-year career there are always those who take issue with my coaching style and me personally," she said. "I am a woman holding what is traditionally a man's job, and double standards come with the territory."

McKeever's attorney, Tom Newkirk, said the firing was the result of gender bias and that coaches "male or female, should be afraid, very afraid."

"If you are a good coach who holds your athletes accountable, you are next," Newkirk said in a statement emailed to The Times.

"When the soccer coach at Cal got complaints, he was allowed to keep his job and to 'learn' from his mistakes," he said.

But the investigation, conducted by Los Angeles-based law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, concluded that McKeever's behavior had violated numerous school policies and had created a hostile environment for athletes of different races and with disabilities.

In one instance, an athlete, identified only as Swimmer A, alleged that she had been singled out based on her race, which was redacted from the report.

The swimmer was repeatedly subjected to verbal abuse and frequently dismissed from practices and blocked from competing in some meets, according to the report.

"We conclude that Coach McKeever subjected [another swimmer] and Swimmer A to a racially hostile environment," the report said.

Another athlete, identified as Swimmer C, who participated in the program two decades ago, alleged that McKeever became exasperated with her struggles to speak English, which was not her first language.

The athlete said she was mocked by McKeever for her last name, called fat by the coach and pressured to swim through injury.

The athlete said she was "unable to sleep" and felt "extremely unhappy and worn down" by McKeever's treatment.

"We find it more likely than not that Coach McKeever's consistent comments about Swimmer C's name, speech, and national origin ... created a hostile environment based on race," the report said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.