Content warning: mentions of suicide, alleged abuse
The team never misses a beat. Year after year, Cal women’s swim and dive fostered fame and fortune at the hands of its talent and training. Fans look at the swimmers and see gold medals and Olympic appearances. It was no shock for the Bears to head off to Atlanta for the NCAA championships. It was almost a prerequisite for every season.
Yet, behind the trophies and national titles, potentially stands a different narrative for the swimmers.
Head coach Teri McKeever, the 29-year patron to women’s swim and dive, has been reported to have allegedly verbally abused athletes and bullied swimmers throughout her time working at Cal.
This report, initially published by the Southern California News Group, or SCNG, focused on the alleged downfall of Cal swimmers’ mental health, including Danielle Carter and her alleged experience facing suicide as a result of McKeever’s abuse.
Multiple investigations have surfaced following the initial article. Among these reports include the SCNG investigation. Findings from the investigation allege that McKeever has reportedly built a hostile environment for Cal swimmers since at least 2014, in which swimmer Cindy Tran alleges she nearly took her life due to McKeever’s reported bullying.
The SCNG investigation interviewed 19 swimmers about the allegations against McKeever. These 19 swimmers reported that McKeever allegedly selects one to three targets per season to bully, swears at swimmers in front of their teammates, refuses to acknowledge physical illnesses and violates privacy agreements, among other abuses.
Nicole Oliva, a recruit for the 2020-2021 season, is among one of the swimmers who claims she was emboldened to resign from Cal swimming because of McKeever’s culture.
Oliva’s pronounced accolades earned her a spot on Cal’s swimming roster. After swimming in the 2017 and 2019 world championships for the Philippines and being named USA Swimming Scholastic All-American, Oliva had the opportunity to swim alongside the nation’s best swimmers and under the tutelage of McKeever. Nevertheless, Oliva says she was disheartened and stung by her coach’s wrath.
“I transitioned from being a Cal student-athlete to solely a Cal student as a result of this, and I have witnessed firsthand the stark difference between the two cultures,” Oliva said.
Oliva believes that if the student body becomes aware of the culture and environment McKeever has allegedly developed throughout her time at UC Berkeley, students can make a difference.
“(They can) add the pressure needed to bring about justice and change,” Oliva said.
UC Berkeley’s athletic department and administration has reportedly received allegations of bullying and abuse from McKeever since at least 2014. Last week, McKeever was put on paid administrative leave.
Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton issued a statement addressing the allegations and his communication with the Cal swimmers. Additionally, he expressed his commitment to the values of Cal Athletics.
“These allegations run counter to our core values and the expectations we have for every member of our department,” Knowlton commented.
McKeever declined to comment on her administrative leave and the investigation’s findings.
As the story of McKeever’s allegations unravel, the conditions under which Cal athletes compete in shows a different side to their success. The alleged hardship and stress that McKeever fostered for her athletes emerged as the underpinnings of greatness.