Makarri Doggette had trouble staying silent, but speaking up wasn’t easy either. She wanted to share her experience while not invalidating the experience of others — namely Tia Kiaku, the former University of Alabama gymnast who alleges racism in the program.
Doggette found the middle ground through a lengthy message on her Twitter account Friday morning.
Kiaku’s allegations struck a personal note with Doggette, both being a black UA gymnast and being both present and victimized by one of Kiaku’s allegations. Doggette pushed back on some of Kiaku’s allegations, but did so while addressing the matter at hand.
Later Friday, fellow UA gymnast Lexi Graber released her own statement, which included an apology to Kiaku.
“Before I begin my truth, in no way am I saying there is 2 sides to racism. This is my side to the backstory of it all,” Doggette said. “I honestly feel that there is a difference between being a racist with so much hate in your heart and making a racially insensitive comment. I’ve known my assistant coach for most of my life as we both lived in Columbus, Ohio. After the incident, we were contacted and apologized to repeatedly as well as immediate action being taken by the university when it originally happened MONTHS ago. Initially, I felt manipulated/pressured to react a certain way being one of the only black women on the team.
“We all say things in the heat of the moment when we’re caught up in emotions and may say things that we THINK are between your closest friends, but once we take time to reflect, we often realize our true feelings. I in no way feel ANY of the coaching staff are racists or have hate in their heart and would purposely try to hurt their athletes.
“Following the incident, a team meeting was held. Contrary to what was said, things were handled immediately, meetings were in process, most of which were not attended by my former teammate. In her defense, maybe she didn’t realize how serious they took the situation like we did, as she removed herself not only from the team and team activities that she was invited to, but the university itself. I only wish she participated in these meetings so she could fully understand the sense of urgency that the staff had, to make sure we all felt loved and respected.”
The incident Doggette referenced was one with assistant coach Bill Lorenz, who approached a vault drill with all of the team’s black gymnasts on it and said, “What is this, the back of the bus?” Lorenz released a statement on Wednesday in which he said, “What was intended to be a lighthearted comment ended up having an offensive impact, and I regret that.”
On the subject of the meetings mentioned by Doggette, in her interview with The Tuscaloosa News, Kiaku described her presence at several meetings. Kiaku said in one meeting, she outlined to a teammate why use of the N-word is unacceptable, to which the teammate replied that it was a joke. Kiaku also said other meetings left her feeling as if the gymnasts and coaches did not want her around.
Kiaku left the team after the fall semester, before the team’s 2020 season, thus it is plausible that the topic carried over to meetings in the spring semester when Kiaku wasn’t a member of the team.
In her rebuttal, Doggette defended her experience at UA, but attempted to avoid undermining Kiaku’s.
“I validate her truth. This is my truth. Please respect that,” Doggette wrote.
“I am extremely happy where I am at and the relationships I’ve built with my coaches and teammates. I wouldn’t trade this BAMA family for anything. I hope we can all move forward with love and respect for each other, roll tide forever.”
Graber began her statement by noting, “I am not here to try to deny or condone any actions that have been made or words that may have been said. I am only here to express my personal thoughts and feelings and try to make things right.”
In doing so, she was the first member of the UA gymnastics team in any capacity to publicly say she is sorry to Kiaku. Lorenz used the words “regret” and “sorry” once each in his statement, but never named any of the three gymnasts at whom he directed his racist comment.
“So today, I stand here to say to Tia: I am sorry,” Graber wrote. “I am sorry for the experiences you have had, the pain you’ve felt, and I am sorry for the wrongful words. Additionally, I feel it is right to say thank you. Thank you for having the courage to speak up and allowing us as a team, individuals, and as a program to truly open our eyes and hears to what is going on around us. Thank you for showing us how to be better and help others be better moving forward.”
Graber also said, “perception varies and the way people perceive the same situation can be 100% different,” but she did not offer that as an excuse.
“While one person may not INTEND to harm another with their words does not mean they weren’t harmed,” Graber said. “This being said, when we learn we have harmed someone we care about, we must accept the fact that we have done wrong, whether it be intentional or not. Not only do we need to acknowledge and apologize for our wrongdoings, we must learn how to change our perspective to therefore change our actions and the way we speak to others.”
Graber ended her statement with the following:
“The fact of the matter is, if you open your eyes to what is happening in this world, racism STILL EXISTS and we must each do better individually to truly make a change. I am continuing to learn everyday and I stand by you. I have made a commitment to be better and influence those around me to be better so that future families and children no longer have to feel the pain the African American community has faced for far too long.
“I understand the privilege I have and I understand how important it is to use my voice to stand up for what is right. This isn’t politics, this is humanity. BLACK LIVES MATTER and the color of our skins should not determine our fate. Let’s get better, together.”