Report: UC Berkeley investigating Cal AD Jim Knowlton, Associate AD Jennifer Simon-O'Neill regarding the Teri McKeever scandal
Numerous high-ranking Cal donors have been lobbying UC Berkeley Chancellor Christ to fire both Knowlton and Simon-O'Neill for their conduct.
UC Berkeley has reportedly started an investigation into Cal AD Jim Knowlton and Associate AD Jennifer Simon-O’Neill over the handling of the Teri McKeever allegations by former and then-current student-athletes. After initial reports about further steps being taken in this case, it appears the investigation will be centered around the two Cal athletic leaders. Scott Reid of the Souther California News Group first reported the story.
The University of California-Berkeley has launched a formal investigation into Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton and executive associate athletic director Jennifer Simon-O’Neill’s handling of dozens of allegations over the course of years that former Golden Bears women’s swimming head coach Teri McKeever bullied swimmers on an almost daily basis, the Southern California News Group has learned.
Attorneys hired by the university have begun contacting current and former Cal swimmers and their parents as part of a follow-up investigation to an eight-month, $2-million probe that led to McKeever’s firing on January 31, according to three people familiar with the investigation.
Reid goes on to give some background information into when and why this investigation has begun, stating a contingent of donors lobbied for the firing of Knowlton and Simon-O’Neill to Chancellor Carol Christ.
Golden Bears boosters, some of whom have made seven-figure donations to the Cal athletic program, have lobbied Chancellor Carol T. Christ for months to fire Knowlton and Simon-O’Neill, arguing their failure to effectively address McKeever’s behavior caused swimmers to be endangered and damaged the university’s reputation.
Simon-O’Neill has very close connections with McKeever both professionally and personally, and numerous swimmers have alleged that the Cal associate athletic director knew about the former coach’s misconduct, and neglected her duties to protect the team from harm.
McKeever is a godmother to one of Simon-O’Neill’s children. Simon-O’Neill was hired by Cal in 2008 as director of Olympic sports operations. She was named associate athletic director in 2013 and after additional promotions was named to her current position, executive senior associate AD, chief of staff and senior women’s administrator in 2019. She was the direct supervisor of the women’s swimming program until the responsibility was removed from her last May, a day after the publication of an SCNG report in which 19 current and former Cal swimmers, six parents, and a former member of the Golden Bears men’s team portrayed McKeever as a bully who for decades has allegedly verbally and emotionally abused, swore at and threatened swimmers on an almost daily basis.
Harsh sentiments have similarly been laid out on Knowlton’s desk. Swimmers who have been part of the suit and McKeever’s attorney allege that Knowlton has known for years about McKeever’s actions, but did nothing with these allegations until the suit became public.
At the time of McKeever’s firing, Knowlton wrote to Cal swimmers that he “was disturbed by what I learned in the course of reading through the report’s 482 pages that substantiate far too many allegations of unacceptable behavior. I want to apologize, on behalf of Cal Athletics, to every student-athlete who was subject to this conduct in the past, and I want to thank everyone who had the courage to come forward and share their story with the investigators.”
Thomas Newkirk, McKeever’s attorney, said he was surprised by Knowlton’s letter.
“Jim Knowlton, why he is apologizing to athletes when he knew how Teri coached the entire time he was there is beyond me,” Newkirk said. “It makes no sense.”
We’ll have more as the investigation continues into the coming months.