Teri McKeever, former head women’s swim coach at the University of California, Berkeley, has been suspended by the U.S. Center for SafeSport. On December 28, 2023, she was officially placed on SafeSport’s Centralized Disciplinary Database. SafeSport initiated the investigation following publication of allegations of abusive coaching first reported in the Orange County Register in May 2022. As part of the resolution of the investigation, McKeever admitted to physically and emotionally abusing Cal swimmers for more than 20 years. Until now, McKeever has vehemently denied any misconduct.
As part of an agreement with SafeSport, McKeever will face a three-month suspension from participating in any events sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, including USA Swimming, and a subsequent 12-month probation. During this period, she is also prohibited from contacting the swimmers who made allegations against her.
Boucher LLP’s Kelsey L. Campbell told the San Francisco Chronicle, “The U.S. Center for SafeSport’s penalty for McKeever is a first step in the athletics community grappling with the long issue of emotional, psychological and verbal abuse by coaches. . . . As our lawsuit alleges, she coached in such a manner openly and in full view of the athletics department and other university officials, who took no action.”
SafeSport received allegations from claimants spanning from 2000 to 2022. Former swimmers reported that McKeever screamed profanities at athletes, encouraged them to train through injuries, thereby causing severe emotional distress.
UC Berkeley’s Actions and Inaction
Following the May 2022 reporting by the Orange County Register, Cal, as required by state law, initiated an investigation into the allegations. In January 2023, the university formally terminated McKeever’s employment. The university released a heavily-redacted investigation report prepared by Munger Tolles & Olson. The investigation noted that the university had received prior complaints regarding McKeever’s misconduct that have been “resolved by the University”. All information about the complaints were redacted from the report.
Following calls for further investigation, in March 2023, the university initiated an investigation into the actions and inactions of Athletic Director Jim Knowlton and Senior Woman Administrator Jennifer Simon-O’Neill. Both officials remain in their positions today and the university has not made the findings of their investigation public.
Student-athletes from Cal’s women’s soccer team have also made complaints about their coach. The university has not removed that coach from his position. In November 2023, a California appellate court ruled that a former soccer player’s suit against the university can continue.
Boucher LLP’s Case Against The Regents of the University of California
Boucher LLP represents 18 plaintiffs who suffered unlawful verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse while members of the Cal women’s swimming and diving team—some of which dates back to the 2000-2001 season. As a result of their experiences on the team, many Plaintiffs lost their love for swimming, have experienced self-doubt, blame, uncertainty, low self-esteem, and a host of psychological symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, suicidal allegations, disordered eating, and disturbed sleep. Plaintiffs are former age-group champions, state champions, NCAA champions, and an Olympic gold medalist.
Abusive coaching can include belittling, humiliation, shouting, scapegoating, threatening, and isolating. Elite athletes are trained to endure challenges and become comfortable in discomfort and, therefore, may not recognize that their coach has crossed into abusive coaching. High schools and universities owe a duty to student-athletes to protect them from such abusive coaching tactics. .
The recent suspension of Teri McKeever represents a critical step forward in safeguarding the well-being of athletes in collegiate and Olympic sports. This development, while a welcome marker of accountability, underscores the need for ongoing and diligent efforts to ensure justice for the affected students. Boucher LLP’s active involvement in this case exemplifies our commitment to addressing the deep-rooted issues in sports coaching and athlete protection.
Our case against The Regents of the University of California is more than just a legal battle; it is part of a broader movement to challenge and transform the culture within sports, ensuring that coaches and universities uphold the rights and dignity of all athletes.