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UC Berkeley ousts former Olympic swim coach following allegations of abuse and discrimination

Former Olympic swim coach Teri McKeever created a "hostile environment" for some athletes based on race and disability and used "humiliating and belittling language," according to an investigation.
U.S. Olympic team head coach Teri McKeever at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials on June 24, 2012, in Omaha, Neb.
U.S. Olympic team coach Teri McKeever at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb., on June 24, 2012.Charlie Neibergall / AP file

A onetime U.S. Olympic swim coach has been fired as the head of University of California, Berkeley women's swim team after an investigation found she was abusive and had discriminated against some of her student-athletes, the university announced Tuesday.

Athletics Director Jim Knowlton said the university "parted ways" with Teri McKeever after a probe found "numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination" and "verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

"After carefully reviewing an extensive investigative report that was recently completed by an independent law firm, I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole," Knowlton wrote in a letter to the women's swim team and the athletic department staff.

McKeever, who spent 30 years coaching the Golden Bears' women's swim team, was put on paid administrative leave in May after the Orange County Register published an investigation that featured allegations of verbal or emotional abuse from 20 current or former Cal swimmers, according to NBC Sports.

The university retained a law firm to conduct an independent investigation, which included a review of about 1,700 documents and interviews with 147 people, including McKeever, current and former swimmers, parents of swimmers, coaching staff members and other university personnel, among others, according to a redacted copy of the report obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The report alleges that McKeever violated university policies by creating a "hostile environment" for some swimmers based on their races, national origins and disabilities, including by questioning their reported injuries and using a racial slur while mimicking rap music. It alleges that she used "humiliating and belittling language" with some swimmers, including calling them "worthless," a "waste of a scholarship" and an "embarrassment."

It also alleges she violated official policy by creating a negative team environment in which she pressured swimmers to turn on and publicly criticize one another.

Other allegations are that McKeever pressured some team athletes to swim through their injuries and to reveal personal information about their medical histories, grades and psychological traumas. But investigators could not make a definitive judgment about whether she violated university policies in those instances, the report says.

"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 also alleged in her statement that she was dealing with "double standards" as a female coach and that she was "terribly disappointed and saddened at the way in which the investigation process was conducted."

“While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift," she said.

According to NBC Sports, McKeever's lawyer said she “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever took the Cal team to four NCAA and five Pac-12 team championships, according to her biography on the university website, which also says she is "regarded as one of the most accomplished swimming mentors in the United States, if not the world."

She was also head coach of the U.S. Olympic women's swim team in London in 2012 and an assistant coach in 2004 and 2008. She was a seven-time assistant coach for the U.S. team at the World Championships, according to her biography.

Before she coached the Golden Bears, she spent five seasons coaching the women's and men's teams at Fresno State University. She started her coaching career in 1984 at the University of Southern California, from which she graduated the previous year, and she was an All-America collegiate swimmer, according to her biography.

McKeever and representatives for UC Berkeley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Former Olympic coach Dave Durden will continue as the university's acting director of swimming and diving while the department works to find permanent leadership, Knowlton said.