What started with a hip-hop song could end in a swan song for the once-celebrated UCLA gymnastics team.
It’s a sad state of affairs for the team that was photographed just last year, clasping hands, on bended knee, the picture of unity in their matching “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts.
And all it took to bring the group of tumbling social justice warriors down was one lousy song.
The Bruins’ beleaguered athletes have been embroiled for months in a controversy that centers on song lyrics and who is and isn’t allowed to sing them, and the stress is beginning to show. At their season opener earlier this month, the team delivered their worst score in nearly seven years, placing third behind Minnesota and Iowa.
The strife among teammates began in the fall, when several members of the team heard Alexis Jeffrey, who is not black, singing a song that includes the N-word in the lyrics. After allegedly hearing Jeffrey use the N-word on other occasions, two of the gymnasts took Jeffrey aside and attempted to explain why they were offended.
Rather than apologize, Jeffrey allegedly maintained she had done nothing wrong. She was, after all, only singing a song.
The situation quickly escalated into a woke wake-up call that sent the two gymnasts to complain to coaches and administrators, including third-year coach Chris Waller and senior associate athletic director Christina Rivera, according to the Los Angeles Times.
What followed were three months of meetings with experts and discussions about racism, as the team scrambled to preserve their apparently fragile state of mental health.
Still, nothing seemed to calm the triggered storm.
The micro-aggressions reportedly continued following the coaches’ suggestion that Jeffrey may have mental health issues of her own and could benefit from some tolerance from her teammates, adding that Jeffrey reportedly felt intimidated and/or frightened by the black gymnasts on the team.
The attempted explanation reportedly caused some of the black gymnasts to claim the coaches are more concerned with the problems of a non-black athlete than with the concerns of their black students.
The tension became so unbearable that Seniors Margzetta Frazier and Norah Flatley took to Twitter last week, seeking help from UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond.
Can you talk to our coaches please
— Margzetta (@IAmMargzetta) January 20, 2022
@MartinJarmond we are saddened that we’ve exhausted every avenue to have this issue addressed and have not heard or seen from you in over 3 months. Please respond to the email I sent you.
— Norah Flatley (@norah_flatley) January 20, 2022
The pleas were answered with a meeting between the gymnasts and Jarmond that seemed to be a positive step forward and, for a moment, UCLA felt able to exhale.
But it was only a moment.
Following the meeting, Jarmond issued a statement that fell flat with the athletes, who felt not nearly enough was done to properly address racism on the team.
In it, Jarmond stated that the program “proactively engaged the support of campus and external experts on equity, diversity and inclusion, incidents of bias, mental-health and communication.”
He vowed, “As we move forward, we will continue to work with student-athletes, coaches, campus and external partners on how best to support the team.”
A statement from athletic director Martin Jarmond. pic.twitter.com/PzAaL22HMO
— UCLA Athletics (@UCLAAthletics) January 25, 2022
But as Frazier told the Los Angeles Times, she felt her concerns “were neglected and brushed under the rug.”
“It seemed like these were things put in place to check off boxes,” Frazier said. “It was performative and it did not do anything. … I know for a fact that myself and my black teammates suffered greatly. We haven’t had training — I would say that for the whole team — we have not had correct training for three months because of the emotional despair and the lack of trust between the gymnasts and the staff.”
In a statement to The Times, Tuesday, Coach Waller said: “As a coach and educator, my deepest concern is always the health and well-being of each member of this team, and I will continue to support these young leaders and do my best to give them the experience they deserve. My belief in the team is unwavering,”
As the gymnasts struggle to find balance in a world full of triggering events, some fans are calling for a new coach and rumors of bullying have put the athletes off their game.
Meanwhile, Alexis Jeffrey has left UCLA, claiming her teammates had even gone so far as to suggest she commit suicide. Only days before the team’s season-opener, news came that she had transferred to LSU.
The move was confirmed by Louisiana State coach Jay Clark, in a press conference Tuesday, but it would be a stretch to call it a smooth move. Apparently, Clark needed to consult first with the associate athletic director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the college to make it happen. That LSU even has such a position is cause to question whether Jeffrey will be any happier there.
“I hope she is doing well,” said Frazier, who emphatically denied that any members of her team were bullies. “I hope people are watching after her and that she is safe, because the problem isn’t even her anymore.”
Their inner turmoil is now on full display.
At their ill-fated season opener, the UCLA gymnasts did away with their virtue-signaling “Black excellence” leotards, designed by them in 2020, when protests for racial justice was a super trendy thing. Instead of a raised fist on their shoulders, they donned solid gold leotards… and then they came in last.
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