In a social media post on Monday, former Florida gymnast Kennedy Baker detailed her experiences with racism while a member of the team.
Describing microaggressions and the use of racial slurs and taunts by teammates, as well as being treated differently than her white peers by members of the coaching staff, Baker documented a hostile environment, particularly under former Gators head coach Rhonda Faehn.
Baker had previously alluded to racism within the program in a tweet in June, without providing any detail, and her teammate Kytra Hunter described her time with the team and the frequent use of slurs and stereotypes in a post a few days later.
Baker, who was a member of the national team before arriving in Gainesville, competed for Florida from 2014 to 2018 and helped lead the team to an NCAA team title in 2015. Her career ended after she tore her Achilles tendon while performing on floor routine during her senior season. She was an 11-time All-American and three-time SEC individual champion, and earned three perfect 10.0 scores during her collegiate career.
Very on brand for a lot of these college teams to stay silent, kinda like how my own team asked for my silence when they were saying racist things to me, and calling me racist names. You guys can't put out a statement of support? Like bare minimum?— Kennedy Baker (@KennBaker15) June 1, 2020
This wasn't easy, but I am human too. Racism is taught, not born! It's time for a change ✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/d6FbrkSsDX— Kytra Hunter (@KytraHunter) June 5, 2020
During Baker's freshman season, she described an incident in a car when a teammate called her a racial epithet, with several other teammates also in the vehicle.
"I froze in complete disbelief," she wrote. "Did she really say that? I looked around the car, almost all upperclassmen, and no one said a word. They awkwardly laughed, and then we drove in radio silence after that. I immediately notified Rhonda after the incident occurred and she put together a 'meeting.' In this meeting, one of the first things that was said was, 'What is said in this meeting should not leave this meeting,' immediately silencing me, and my fellow teammate Kytra [Hunter].
"After the meeting was over, I was called to Rhonda's office. She asked me to 'just get over' what the girls had said, and requested I forgive them because we needed to win a championship, and championship winning teams need to be friends. So, I did. And we won. And despite winning a national championship and getting a huge ring, my most distinct memory from that year is my teammate calling me a [racial slur]."
Baker says she requested to transfer soon after the season ended, but Faehn told her other programs "probably wouldn't have a spot for me," and encouraged her not to transfer. Hunter described a similar experience in her earlier post. Faehn left the program after the season to work for USA Gymnastics, and Jenny Rowland took over the head-coaching role.
Baker, 24, says things improved once Rowland arrived, but many of the microaggressions remained, and she said she was accused of bullying or "creating drama" any time she would call any of her teammates out for offensive behavior, including when one teammate said, "Well, I don't like Black guys."
Baker also described what she believes to be inadequate and unequal treatment by the team trainer, and said she felt her voice and concerns about her own health were not taken seriously.
"My senior year, I knew my [Achilles] was going to tear," she wrote. "I stated that I felt like it was going to tear from September until the season started in January. Requesting that I do less numbers, the trainer would lie, and said that I 'just had to deal with it' and I could brush through the pain. Despite my history with [Achilles] problems, my concerns were brushed aside and instead of cutting me back, she encouraged me to keep going, and to my un surprise, my Achilles tore that season."
Baker says she has spoken to Rowland, who remains the head coach, about her experiences, and is hopeful improvements within the program will occur. Rowland confirmed their conversation in an interview with ESPN earlier this summer.
"I felt like I needed to hear from her to learn, listen, and be able to act upon that moving forward to be the best coach that I can be for my current student athletes, and here on out," Rowland said in June. "So it was productive. It was a good conversation and she was very open and honest. And I, myself, the same, and just truly valued her honesty and time."
In a separate social media post Monday, Baker also documented her experiences as an elite gymnast, and wrote about the physical and mental trauma she endured as a member of the Texas Dreams, and the "toxic culture" that permeates the sport.