Underneath the shining Friday night lights or roaring crowd in the stands is a darker truth that must be addressed and unveiled. The firing of Cal women’s swim head coach Teri McKeever offers an alternate, polarizing perspective of what really goes on behind closed doors in college athletics.
Dating back to 2014, McKeever was on the radar for alleged actions of misconduct against members of the women’s swim team. However, it wasn’t until eight years later that a formal investigation was launched by the university against McKeever, where more than 40 athletes corroborated the findings. According to the report, it was revealed that McKeever had created a toxic environment for the athletes that included severe bullying, homophobia and racism.
The well-being and safety of college athletes goes without saying. For a coach to have created an atmosphere where athletes developed depressive thoughts and experienced significant misconduct is utterly unacceptable.
There is no doubt that McKeever was an influential individual for the women’s swim team. Under her leadership, UC Berkeley trained 25 Olympic athletes and won several national tournaments. But this legacy is stained by the destructive culture McKeever has molded in the athletes that she oversaw.
We begin by holding campus and the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, or OPHD, accountable for allowing something to this degree to happen. While McKeever’s misconduct was eventually identified, it is difficult to deduce just how long her abusive behavior prevailed throughout her 29 years at UC Berkeley. It took nearly a decade for an investigation to be launched, even when the first complaints were made in 2014. We believe that collegiate athletes must be protected more adequately and not have to tolerate disrespectful and destructive conditions.
Recently, Ethicspoint and Cal Athletics created anonymous feedback forms for athletes to routinely fill out every so often to help boost morale and promote transparency within every sports team on campus. Athletic departments must continue to allow athletes to protect their identities when reporting on their experiences to allow a safe space to be made.
We strongly encourage campus and OPHD to assume a more present role in monitoring and handling campus abuse, being more driven to find out these things as soon as allegations are made. There shouldn’t be gaps in the timeline for when an investigation is launched — it should be immediate.
Despite all these potential implementations, we want campus to always listen to athletes and their stories. Campus should closely monitor the status of athletes and ensure that a sports culture built on the foundations of abuse and bullying is not tolerated or accepted. Athletes at UC Berkeley, or any college campus, deserve to practice their sport freely and safely without question.