Ex-Alabama gymnast details team’s racist culture

  • Covers the SEC.
  • Joined ESPN in 2012.
  • Graduate of Auburn University.

  • ACC reporter.
  • Joined ESPN in 2012.
  • Graduate of the University of Delaware.

Former Alabama gymnast Tia Kiaku described in a social media post on Tuesday the systemic racism she experienced during her time on the team, including a racist joke from an assistant coach and fellow teammates using racist language.

Kiaku, who walked onto the team for the 2019 season, shared her experience after Alabama’s gymnastics’ Twitter page posted a #BlackoutTuesday message with the the word, “Unity.”

She wrote, in part, “Do we really stand together?”

Kiaku told ESPN of an incident in which an assistant coach made a comment when three black women were doing vault drills together: “What is this, the back of the bus?”

She also said there were numerous occasions in which white women on the team used the N-word without repercussions.

Kiaku filed a formal Title IX complaint but said only the joke was investigated and that the assistant, who was not identified, was given a warning and allowed to remain on the team.

“They said he had something on his record but would remain a coach and it was just a bad joke,” Kiaku said. “It was a slap on the wrist.”

No coach or player was publicly disciplined. According to a statement from director of athletics Greg Byrne, “Title IX Programs gathered all of the facts, an outcome was determined, reported back and action steps were taken.”

However, citing legal restrictions, Alabama declined to address what specific steps were taken and declined comment on any of Kiaku’s allegations.

The school provided ESPN a statement from coach Dana Duckworth on Thursday.

“I feel throughout this experience we have all learned and are continuing to learn together,” Duckworth said. “As the head coach, I am ultimately responsible for this program. There was a report made, and while I cannot get into specifics on that, I can say it resulted in many discussions, conversations and training, which have also resulted in increased awareness as well as growth personally and professionally. No one in life is exempt from mistakes, regret, heartache and challenging issues. Our core values have always been respect, integrity and class while providing an open and safe community for everyone associated with this program. We strive to learn with one another and grow with a greater understanding as we continue to foster an inclusive and unified family environment.”

Alabama gymnasts, as a team, also released a statement.

“We can think of no better term to describe Alabama Gymnastics than, ‘One heart.’ This is a group of amazing individuals with varying backgrounds that come together to form an incredibly special team. We stand by each other, and we love each other. None of us are perfect. We’ve all made mistakes, and we continue to learn from each other every day. We support one another, from our teammates to our coaches to our support staff, and we are proud to be student-athletes at The University of Alabama.”

Kiaku said she didn’t feel welcome at Alabama and that Duckworth was not there for her.

“The one thing that drove me to Alabama was that they really stressed unity and family and class and sisterhood,” she said. “You can’t be part of a community and let injustice happen to part of your community. You can’t have class if you let these things happen. You can’t have sisterhood when you’re leaving someone behind. They don’t practice what they preach at all.”

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