Former Alabama gymnast recalls coach making racist joke about black gymnasts in practice

Jack Baer

As the conversation about racial inequality takes center stage in American politics, one former Alabama gymnast had a telling story about a coach’s racist joke and the school’s response.

Tia Kiaku, who was a sophomore on the Crimson Tide gymnastics team last year, recalled the incident on Instagram on Tuesday.

According to Kiaku, she and the two other African American gymnasts on the Alabama team (which currently has a roster of 16 gymnasts) were practicing together on the vault — at which point one of them noted the three were all together.

An unnamed assistant coach then allegedly cracked a joke saying, “What is this, the back of the bus?” Kiaku called the joke “inappropriate” and “racist.” What might have been more revealing was the school reportedly deeming it as just a bad joke and apparently not disciplining the coach.

Kiaku would later leave the team. Now, she’s calling for change at Alabama, in its athletic program and its gymnastics team.

Kiaku also posted a screencap of a text exchange on Twitter showing one of her Alabama teammates apparently agreeing with her message. She also confirmed the coach in question was still at Alabama.

The accusation prompted a statement from the Alabama athletic director a day later, in which he detailed how Alabama responded to Kiaku’s complaint and claimed that “action steps were taken.”


“We are limited by law on what we can speak about regarding equal opportunity matters, however we can elaborate on what steps were taken," Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne said in a statement released to on Wednesday. "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.”

A former Alabama gymnast is speaking out about a "disturbing" joke made in practice and allowed to slide by the university. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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