Former Gator gymnast reveals she faced racism at UF, Coaches have an open conversation

Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 12:53 AM EDT
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The protests from the death of George Floyd have sparked a conversation on race in America. That conversation did not stop at the sports world, and it even sparked conversation amongst the UF Athletic programs.

Gator coaches and Athletic Director Scott Stricklin have created an open letter, entitled "Respect".

The coaches denounced racism, but also acknowledged the need for accountability. They have also talked about educating one another on how to improve interactions with people of a different race.

This letter comes two days after former Gator gymnast Kennedy Baker, who competed at Florida from 2015-18, revealed on social media that she faced racism from her own team at UF as one of the few black members on the team.

“Very on-brand for a lot of these college teams to stay silent, kind like how my own team asked for my silence when they were saying racist things to me, and calling me racist names,” Baker said on June 1.

Fellow black Gator gymnastics alumna Kytra Hunter, who competed from 2012-2015, responded by saying “Thank you for speaking up for US!”

On June 2, the team participated in Blackout Tuesday where people posted black screens on social media in solidarity with the black community.

On June 3, Gators gymnastics head coach Jenny Rowland revealed that she had a conversation with Baker earlier in the week.

“Thank you for the honest conversation on Monday. I listened, I learned, and vow to continue to learn to be the best coach I can be for my student-athletes. I have and will always love and support you and I will continue to grow and stand beside you against racism and injustice.” Rowland said.

Also on that day, current Gator sophomore gymnast Trinity Thomas released a statement.

"I recognize that there have been problems on past teams. I am lucky to have had such positive experiences as a black collegiate athlete. I know that there are many athletes that have not been as fortunate as me. My team and I have always been supportive of each other. We know right from wrong, and we need to do more of the right thing. We as a team are committed to using our platform to make a change." Thomas said.

Hunter responded to Thomas's tweet and she also thanked Coach Rowland,

"Thank you @JennyRowlandUF for making a change. That means everything, knowing you are doing what is right!" Hunter said.

Rowland’s first season as the Gators head coach was in 2016. Before that, Rhonda Faehn was the head coach of the program.

Faehn coached the Gators for 13 seasons from 2003-2015. The Gators won three national titles during that season.

In 2015, Faehn was hired as the head Senior Vice President of the Women's Program at USA Gymnastics. She was fired in 2018. There were reports that she and other USA Gymnastics officials mishandled the reporting of multiple incidents of athlete abuse.