A former University of Alabama gymnast said via social media Tuesday night that she had been involved in a “very disturbing” incident that included a racially inappropriate comment during a practice last season.

Tia Kiaku, a walk-on member of the 2020 team, described the incident in which she said an assistant coach – who she did not identify — made an inappropriate comment to her and two other African-American gymnasts. “I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to address a very disturbing and grave incident that occurred last year while I was on the Gymnastics team at the University of Alabama,” she posted.  “During the practice, only the three African-American girls (including myself) just happened to be on vault drills together. While practicing, one of the black gymnasts said ‘look, all the black girls are all on the same event.’ (Responding) to the statement, the Assistant Coach walked over and said ‘What is this, the back of the bus.’”

The phrase “back of the bus” is most frequently associated with segregation in the South, particularly the Montgomery bus boycott sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955.

Kiaku also referred to use of a racial slur as well as “implicit biases, stereotyping, grouping terminology and statements with underlying racism” but cited no other specific incidents.

Kiaku said the incident was reported in a complaint to the University Office of Title IX Compliance, which she says “did a full investigation.”

“They deemed it a ‘bad joke’ and (the assistant coach involved in the allegation) is still coaching at The University of Alabama. This is a systematic problem as well!,” Kiaku said on her social media post.

“We are limited by law on what we can speak about regarding equal opportunity matters, however we can elaborate on what steps were taken” UA Athletics Director Greg Byrne said in a statement to The News. “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.”

UA also issued a statement from what it referred to as “UA gymnasts,” although no specific student-athletes were identified.

“We can think of no better term to describe Alabama Gymnastics than, ‘One heart’,” the statement attributed to the gymnasts said. “This is a group of amazing individuals with varying backgrounds that come together to form an incredibly special team. We stand by each other, and we love each other. None of us are perfect. We’ve all made mistakes, and we continue to learn from each other every day. We support one another, from our teammates to our coaches to our support staff, and we are proud to be student-athletes at The University of Alabama.”

Kiaku transferred to Alabama from Ball State following the 2018 season. She said in her social media posting that she has made the decision to leave the Alabama team.


Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt