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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Former UF gymnast Kennedy Baker comes forward with racial abuse allegations

<p>Kennedy Baker performs her floor exercise during Florida's 197.60-196.950 win against Georgia on Friday in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Kennedy Baker performs her floor exercise during Florida's 197.60-196.950 win against Georgia on Friday in the O'Connell Center.

Kennedy Baker, a former Florida gymnast who helped lead UF to a national championship in 2015, has spoken out on social media about her experiences with racism while competing for the Gators.

Baker first tweeted on June 1 about racism during her time on the team and asked them to make a statement. The team would eventually put out a statement on June 3, but 69 days later, Baker elaborated on her initial tweet by detailing her experiences with both the Gators and Texas Dreams Gymnastics, where she started training at age 11.

Baker wrote about her experiences with racism under former UF coach Rhonda Faehn, and noted that she was racially taunted by her teammates. Baker singled out an incident during which she was called a racial slur during a car ride with her teammates, and though Faehn held a meeting about the incident after Baker reported it, Baker wrote that Faehn’s actions during and after the meeting still stifled her.

“She asked me to ‘just get over’ what the girls had said, and requested I forgive them because we needed to win the championship,” Baker wrote on Twitter. “Because championship winning teams need to be friends. So I did.”

Although Baker wrote that things were better under current coach Jenny Rowland, she wrote that “microaggressions” still continued under her tenure. She particularly mentioned a trainer who ignored her concerns about past Achilles problems to the point where she tore it in 2018, ending her gymnastics career.

“She came over to my house, and requested if there was anything she could do differently (sic),” Baker wrote. “She was (four) years too late.”

Baker initially tweeted on June 1 about her experiences shortly before a fellow teammate of hers, Kytra Hunter, made a statement about her own experiences with racism while she was on the squad.

“Very on brand for a lot of these college teams to stay silent, kinda like how my own team asked for my silence when they were saying racist things to me, and calling me racist names,” Baker wrote in June. “You guys can’t put out a statement of support? Like bare minimum?”

She also detailed her time at Texas Dreams Gymnastics, in a preceding Twitter post. She wrote that she experienced little to no attention to serious injuries, an abusive incident in which her trainer cut her braids before a meet without permission and a racially-charged running joke by another trainer wherein he made jokes about a teammates’ name that sounded like a racial slur.

Hunter, who posted her experiences to Twitter on June 5, showed her support to Baker in a reply.

“You are an amazing woman,” Hunter wrote. “Thank you for using your voice.”

Baker wrote that she holds “no ill feelings” toward Rowland and that the two have spoken about her experiences on the team.

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Follow River on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at rwells@alligator.org.

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