Mike Teti Accused of Verbally Abusing Rowers

Mike Teti. Photo: University of California

28 July 2021

By Göran R Buckhorn

In mid-July, as the Olympic Games in Tokyo were approaching, the American rowing governing body, USRowing, was awaiting the results of an assessment commissioned by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee of the sport’s national team programs. Included in the evaluation is the men’s team, which is based in Oakland, California, where Mike Teti, 64, longtime USRowing national coach, is being criticised by some rowers for what they call his intense and intimidating style, the Associated Press (AP) wrote in an article that was published by numerous media outlets.

There is, however, considerably diverse accounts of what rowing is like under Teti’s leadership depending on whom you are talking to, the AP wrote. All the current members of the men’s Olympic eight, which Teti is coaching, are standing united behind their coach.

Nonetheless, nine rowers who spoke to the AP mentioned how Teti can be intimidating, verbally abusing rowers if they challenge him in any way.

“He’ll vary so wildly from the guy that you think is actually going to have his uncle kill you if you don’t win … to the guy that’s crying and telling you that he loves you,” one former Olympic rower told AP. He continued “That exists in the same guy – and I believe both of them. There is a storm raging inside that guy that he has a hard time controlling.”

“I believe that I have coached fairly, with the athletes’ well-being in mind. Any athlete who thinks they have been the subject of improper conduct or unfair treatment should voice that concern in the appropriate venue,” Teti told the AP. “USRowing has reporting mechanisms and personnel in place for that very purpose and has a zero-tolerance policy for retaliation.”

After the news agency approached Teti, it received several statements from former rowers, fellow coaches and other colleagues “expressing gratitude for Teti’s leadership and guidance,” the AP wrote in the article.

The AP obtained a copy of a letter from Arent Fox, the law firm which is conducting the rowing assessment, sent to rowers in January saying the firm is planning “to review whether elite athletes’ concerns are capable of being heard in a fair and neutral way that does not contribute to a fear of retaliation.”

Amanda Kraus, who was appointed USRowing CEO late last autumn, said the review “is not an investigation of any particular coach at USRowing. It is a high-level assessment of the culture of our men’s and women’s training centers in an effort to ensure that our athletes’ concerns are being addressed and that fairness and transparency are always at the core of how we operate.”

Mike Teti has been investigated earlier. In 2018 by the watchdog group SafeSport and in 2016 on behalf of the University of California, Berkeley, where Teti formerly coached. The SafeSport probe was closed with no sanctions and Cal never disclosed its findings, according to the AP article.

Teti has been inducted twice into the National Rowing Foundation’s Rowing Hall of Fame, as an athlete, when he took an Olympic bronze medal in the eights in 1988, and as coach when his eight took a gold at the 2004 Athens Games.

The American men’s eight is now in the A-final at the Tokyo Games.

Teti is not the only rowing coach accused of “verbally abusing” his athletes.

In April, earlier this year, University of Victoria in Canada suspended its women’s rowing coach Barney Williams after rowers formally complained about his aggressive and demeaning treatment of the female rowers. Williams decided to resign after the allegations.

In 2016, British Rowing’s lightweights and women’s coach Paul Thompson was accused by Emily Taylor, who had been dropped from the women’s eight, of being a “massive bully” and creating a culture of fear in the British women’s selection squad. British Rowing immediately started an inquiry, which cleared Thompson of the complaint in February 2017.

In an internet debate forum discussing the accusations against Mike Teti, a person wrote: “He [Teti] sounds like my high school rowing coach.”

How common is it, in the rowing community, that coaches yell and scream and use foul language at their rowers? I don’t know. Anyhow, there is no place for physical, verbal and other harassment in our society. It’s time to get to the bottom of this vicious behaviour.

Update 28 July 2021: In an earlier version of this article Washington Huskies’ coach Bob Ernst was mentioned. It has been pointed out to the article writer that there are different versions of why Ernest left his coaching position at UW. As this is mainly an article about an ongoing assessment commissioned by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee of the USRowing’s national team programs and criticism of Mike Teti from some rowers, the sentence about Ernst has been removed.

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