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Report: Current and former Cal women's soccer players allege 'emotional and mental abuse' by longtime coach

Doug McIntyre
·3-min read

A dozen current and former members of the women’s soccer team at the University of California, Berkeley — the program that produced U.S. women’s national team headliner Alex Morgan — say they either witnessed or were victims of abusive behavior by longtime Golden Bears coach Neil McGuire, according to a bombshell report released Sunday by Oakland television station KTVU.

The report was released after what Fox-owned KTVU said was a year-long investigation. Five ex-Cal players, including Caroline Clark, Indigo Gibson, Hannah Koski, Olivia Sekany and Renee Thomas, went public with their stories, all but Gibson on camera, to recount their claims that McGuire oversaw a toxic culture that was rife with bullying and intimidation.

“It was emotional and mental abuse,” said Thomas, who played 12 games as a freshman in 2018 before being cut by McGuire, who has helmed the Bears since 2007. She is now suing the university. “He treated some girls so poorly they started coming depressed, and started becoming mentally not stable.”

The women allege that McGuire, who recently signed the top recruiting class in the country, would berate and fat-shame his players, routinely overtrain them as a punishment and make inappropriate comments about their personal lives. When they brought their concerns to school administrators, they said their complaints weren’t taken seriously.

“They said they had never heard anything bad about Neil McGuire,” Sekany said about two officials she spoke to. “When we used terms like ‘emotional abuse’ they were condescending in a way, as if we didn't understand the implications of using terminology like that, which we did. We discussed it at length and decided it was absolutely an appropriate term to describe what he'd been doing to us.”

Cal Golden Bears players, both current and former, are alleging abuse against longtime coach Neil McGuire according to a new bombshell report. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Cal Golden Bears players, both current and former, are alleging abuse against longtime coach Neil McGuire according to a new bombshell report. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When Sekany’s mother complained to athletic director Jim Knowlton about a punitive March 2018 training session that left several players sick or on the verge of fainting, Knowlton wrote that “the workout was assessed and determined compliant with criteria for conditioning workouts set forth by the department,” according to the report. Sekany left Cal and transferred to the University of Washington before the 2019 college season.

Cal has been a powerhouse under the Scottish-born McGuire, the program’s all-time winningest coach who qualified the Bears for the NCAA tournament in each of his first 11 seasons before missing out in 2018. Before arriving in Berkeley, McGuire coached at Texas Tech and Mississippi State.

Morgan, who went on to lead the U.S. to back-to-back world titles, played for McGuire from 2007-2010. Fellow Women’s World Cup-winners and National Soccer Hall of Fame inductees Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett also played for Cal.

A university spokesman responded to KTVU’s request for comment by acknowledging that there is “pending litigation in State Court related to the issues and allegations you have shared with us,” but said that those legal proceedings would prevent the school from providing additional comment.

“Those employees named in the allegations, as well as those who were/are involved in the response to these issues and allegations, are unable to participate in any interviews about these matters in order to protect the integrity of the legal process,” Dan Mogulof, Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor, public affairs wrote in an email to journalist Claudine Wong. “Our employees have legally mandated privacy rights that we must respect.”

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