Ex-Alabama Gymnast Recounts Racism in the Program

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Former University of Alabama gymnast Tia Kiaku accused an assistant coach within the program of making a racist comment against her, ultimately leading her to leave the program. 

The post, which went up on Tuesday, alleged multiple incidents of racism. Though the original post didn’t identify the assistant coach in question, Kiaku told AL.com that the comments were made by Bill Lorenz.

View this post on Instagram

Do we stand together? Why not use this opportunity to be transparent? I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to address a very disturbing and grave incident that occurred last year while I was on the Gymnastics team at the University of Alabama. During a practice, only the three African American girls (including myself) just happened to be on vault drills together. While practicing, one of the black gymnasts said “look all the black girls are all on the same event” responding to the statement, the Assistant Coach walked over and said “What is this, the back of the bus?”. Something that seems like a very inappropriate (racist) statement to me was just deemed as a very bad joke by Alabama! That doesn’t seem to be a joke that’s appropriate, especially in a professional team setting. I have seen a myriad of news stories of Coaches saying inappropriate/racist statements such as this who are no longer in a leadership position. Additionally, words such as “Nigga” (whether one thinks it’s funny or not), implicit biases, stereotyping, grouping terminology, and statements with underlying racism should NOT be tolerated from anyone. In fact, it should be unacceptable across the board! If #WeStandTogether, let’s truly stand together and address inappropriate issues that are happening inside programs like the University of Alabama. It is very unfair to isolate or exclude athletes because they take a stand! After much consideration, a lot of thought, lots of crying and even some tough/hard discussions with the Head Coach and some of my team mates, I decided to walk away from the team and the University. It has been hard. So what I will say is.....if the University, the Director of Athletics and Alabama’s Gymnastics program wants to take a stance on diversity and racism, they need to be transparent. These injustices are happing right in the middle of Alabama’s gymnastics team and they did very little about it. So how are we standing together? It’s so disheartening to know that there will be other black woman, like myself, to walk through Alabama’s doors and they pose the risk of going through the same things I went through!...

A post shared by Tia Kiaku (@tia_kiaku) on Jun 2, 2020 at 2:55pm PDT

Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne, in a statement to AL.com on Wednesday, said that the incident was investigated when it was first reported.

“We are limited by law on what we can speak about regarding equal opportunity matters, however we can elaborate on what steps were taken," Greg Byrne said in the statement. "When the complaint was received, it was immediately reported to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX Programs on campus as well as the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. From there, an investigation, completely separate from athletics, took place. Once the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX Programs gathered all of the facts, an outcome was determined, reported back and action steps were taken. We are a department that is committed to providing a just and inclusive community for all of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, operating with integrity and respect.”

Speaking to AL.com, Kiaku recounted additional instances of racist behavior within the gymnastics program, including use of the N-word, complaints about rap music, and a black volunteer coach being described as “not really black.”

"It’s just a lot of little things that have built up,” Kiaku told AL.com. “I look back and think that’s not acceptable. That’s not a professional way to handle, to say things or to do anything. There’s a lot of things that are inappropriate that I’ve been through with this program.”

Kiaku told AL.com that she was influenced by current events to make her story public. She has reportedly entered the transfer portal, hoping to compete in gymnastics at another institution. 


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