KTVU 2 San Francisco Report Details Alleged Abuse in Cal Women's Soccer Program
Teammates referred to an alleged incident as "Raingate"
Being a college student-athlete is not for the faint of heart. It requires a heavy workload and the ability to balance schooling, athletic practice and training, and the rigors of game day, all in your late teenaged-years or early 20s.
It is even more challenging when you are at an elite university like the University of California, Berkeley. Expectations are high at the major NCAA Divison I program and No. 1 public university in the world.
But a dozen players associated with the California women’s soccer program say their lives as student-athletes were made harder than necessary, according to a FOX KTVU 2 San Francisco investigative report that aired Sunday night. The players described patterns of emotional abuse, including bullying, intimidation and other forms of mistreatment.
Goalkeeper Olivia Sekany says Neil McGuire—the head coach of California women’s soccer team since 2007—singled her out. Coach McGuire allegedly “fat-shamed” Sekany, referring to the practice of criticizing or harassing someone based on their physique or weight.
Sekany told KTVU 2 she went on multiple diets and over-trained to try to satisfy Coach McGuire.
“I was just trying to fix whatever was wrong with me so he would stop coming after me,” Sekany told KTVU 2 in an on-camera interview. She added she just wanted to play soccer.
In one instance, Sekany recalled she and her teammates practiced together in March 2018, although the regularly-scheduled practice was canceled because of rain. When the head coach found out, he allegedly assigned a mandatory workout as punishment.
Sekany said they ran until they felt sick or faint. She recalled: “On the last lap that we were doing, my vision went black as I crossed the finish line, and I started saying ‘I can’t see! I can’t see!’”
Caroline Clark, a teammate present for the workout, said several team members required medical attention.
The event eventually became infamous among the team as “Raingate.”
Clark later gave up her athletic scholarship and quit the team, describing the environment as “toxic.”
The other soccer players that KTVU 2 spoke to described conditions beyond what one might expect from an extremely competitive athletic program.
Renee Thomas, a soccer player who was later cut by Coach McGuire as a first-year student, said the coach’s alleged behavior affected her teammates’ mental health.
“It wasn’t an issue of a yeller. It was emotional and mental abuse because he treated some girls so poorly, they started coming depressed and mentally, not stable,” Thomas said.
Thomas filed a lawsuit against the university.
A review of the “Raingate” incident found no wrongdoing. Responding to a written complaint from Sekany’s mother, California Athletic Director Jim Knowlton said the “workout was assessed and determined compliant” and the allegations “were not validated” in an email to Sekany’s mother.
Sekany and her teammates maintain no investigation took place as claimed and that no one was aware of anyone being contacted.
“We have in place best-practice policies and protocols that enable Cal Athletics to respond quickly and comprehensively when there are allegations of misconduct and/or behavior by coaches that is inconsistent with our values and/or relevant rules and policies,” a Cal Athletics spokesperson told Write for California by email. “When issues arise, student-athletes have avenues both within and outside the department to seek support.”
The university could not provide further comment because of the ongoing litigation and privacy rights concerns for personnel and student conduct issues.
The women’s soccer team is one of California’s most celebrated athletic programs.
This year’s recruiting class was ranked No. 1 nationally, and the team and its players regularly earn university and conference awards and honors for academic excellence and high team grade point averages.
Coach McGuire is well-known for a .627 winning percentage on a 155-86-31 record and leading the Golden Bears to the post-season NCAA Tournament in all but one of his 13 seasons as head coach. He has coached FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Alex Morgan, New Zealand and Iceland internationals, and female soccer players who went on to play professionally in Europe and the U.S.
You can read the full written allegations and watch the investigative report at FOX KTVU 2 San Francisco.