Alabama Gymnastics' Dana Duckworth Responds to Tia Kiaku's Racism Allegations

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJune 5, 2020

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA -  SEPTEMBER 21:  A general view of the gymnastics venue including the balance beam at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena during the 1988 Olympic Games held in September 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.  (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
David Madison/Getty Images

Alabama women's gymnastics head coach Dana Duckworth has responded on Twitter to allegations from ex-Crimson Tide gymnast Tia Kiaku that an assistant coach, Bill Lorenz, made a racist joke and that a teammate used a racial slur (h/t Mike Rodak of AL.com).

Duckworth wrote: 

"I feel throughout this experience we have all learned and are continuing to learn together. 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."

On Wednesday, Kiaku outlined numerous incidents she said occurred while she was on the team: "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?'"

Kiaku said that she left the team after much deliberation and "a lot of thought, lots of crying and even some tough/hard discussions with the head coach and some of my teammates."

Kiaku also spoke with Rodak about other incidents she said occurred:

"Kiaku recounted Duckworth showing pictures of Alabama’s former African-American gymnasts on a wall but saying of current volunteer assistant coach Aja Sims, 'She’s not really black. She wasn’t really raised black.'

"Sims tweeted a statement Thursday evening saying she has been 'treated with love and respect by the coaching staff and girls on the team,' but adding, 'my experiences are not indicative of everyone else’s.'

"Kiaku also claimed Duckworth, in a phone conversation with [Kiaku's mother Desiree Gregory], asked whether her father was still part of her life, which Kiaku believes perpetuated an African-American stereotype.

"According to Kiaku, Duckworth also asked a group of black gymnasts on the team during photo day if they were taking an 'African-American appreciation' picture. Separately, Kiaku claimed Duckworth pulled a gymnast out of a junior class photo so a 'minority picture' could be taken with the African-American athletes."

Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne said in a statement that a Title IX investigation was launched following the accusation against Lorenz. Per Byrne, an "outcome was reported" 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," Byrne said.

Lorenz is listed on the Crimson Tide website as one of three assistant coaches under Duckworth, who has guided the program since July 2014.

Per Rodak, Kiaku entered the NCAA transfer portal in February.