Kennedy Baker, a former gymnast at the University of Florida, details the alleged “racism” she experienced while competing for the college.
In an open letter to UF posted to Twitter on Monday, the 24-year-old alleges she was subject to “racist taunts” and microaggressions from her former teammates.
During her freshman year in 2015, the same year she helped the team win an NCAA title, Kennedy claims a fellow gymnast allegedly called her a variation of the N-word during a car ride from a team activity.
“I froze in complete disbelief,” she recalled. “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.”
When Kennedy brought up the issue to then-coach Rhonda Faehn, Rhonda allegedly organized a meeting where Kennedy says she was told, “What is said in this meeting should not leave this meeting.”
After the meeting, Kennedy said she was then called to Rhonda’s office and was allegedly told by Faehn to “just get over” it and to focus on the sport.
“[Rhonda] requested I forgive them because we needed to win a championship, and championship winning teams need to be friends,” Kennedy wrote. “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 ------.”
Though Kennedy says she requested to transfer out of the program, Rhonda allegedly told her other teams “probably wouldn’t have a spot for me.”
Per ESPN, Faehn then left UF to take a role with USA Gymnastics, and Jenny Rowland took over as head coach.
While Kennedy admits that “things got a lot better” when Jenny took over, the “microaggressions stayed as well.” When Kennedy brought up these issues, she said she earned a reputation as someone who was “starting drama.”
Kennedy says that when she called out a teammate who allegedly said she “[doesn’t] like Black guys” during a locker room chat, the teammate allegedly told others that Kennedy was “bullying” her.
Out of all of her experiences, Kennedy says the “racism” that bothered her the most allegedly came from a trainer named Kelly. Kennedy claims the trainer would allegedly encourage her to keep performing routines despite Baker’s concerns over her Achilles tendon — which eventually tore that season.
“My senior year, I knew my [Achilles] was going to tear. I stated that I felt like it was going to tear from September until the season started in January,” Kennedy wrote.
“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,” she continued. “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.”
Despite these memories, Kennedy has “no ill feelings” toward UF or Jenny.
“Most of my major problems occurred when Rhonda was the head coach. I have spoken to [Jenny] about all of this, and I am hopeful that she will take the necessary steps to make a team that is as inclusive as possible,” she wrote.
By coming forward with her story, Kennedy hopes that gymnastic programs “will create a better environment for the teams to come.”
“My intent is not, and was never, to bash the university, but my feelings deserve to be validated, and acknowledged. I am hoping that this is the last time I have to make a statement like this, as this does not get any easier, ever,” she concluded. “Thank you so much for listening, and reading, and I look forward to seeing the changes to come for the gymnastics community.”