Time has passed, but not much has changed regarding race relations for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
A little over 50 years after the University of Alabama desegregated, Alabama Crimson Tide student-athletes still face racial inequality. In light of recent events, several athletes have come forward sharing their stories from their time with Crimson Tide sports’ teams.
Most recently, former gymnast Tia Kiaku shared her truth from her time on the Alabama Gymnastics team. Kiaku walked on to the Alabama Gymnastics team for the 2019 season. On the recent #BlackOutTuesday event on social media to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Kiaku shared a piece of her story.
Kiaku referenced a time at practice when assistant coach, Bill Lorenz, made a racially insensitive joke to her and other Black members of the team. Kiaku also alleged that other white members of the team used the N-word around her and others as well as complained that they “did not want to hear her rap music”.
Kiaku did not let the comments fly. After several strikes, she filed a Title IX complaint with the University. Kiaku later shared in an interview that she felt the University brushed off the allegations and did not fully address the situation.
Kiaku claimed she only wanted empathy and a genuine apology from the coaching staff, but head coach, Dana Duckworth, focused more on the reputation of the program she had to maintain instead.
In an interview, Kiaku’s mother said she spoke with the head coach where Duckworth racially profiled Kiaku even further. Duckworth questioned Kiaku’s relationship with her father due to reported promiscuous behavior. Kiaku’s mother shared her frustration with the conversation since Duckworth brought up another issue altogether rather than adequately addressing the initial allegation of racially insensitive jokes and comments.
Head Coach Dana Duckworth later put out a statement regarding the allegations.
Many felt her “apology” was exactly the opposite… a statement filled with fluff and meaningless words lacking any real sentiment.
The racial insensitivities did not stop with Tia Kiaku. Elissa Brown shared similar sentiments from her time with the Alabama Crimson Tide softball team. Brown felt she never fully fit in and never appreciated the racially insensitive comments from fellow teammates regarding her hairstyles or other pieces of Black culture.
This evidence of racial inequality trails back further than the recent events sparked by the tragic murder of George Floyd reigniting the Black Lives Matter movements across the country.
In 2003, the Alabama Crimson Tide Football team hired Mike Shula as its next head coach, over Sylvester Croom, a Black coach pining for the job. In that time nearly 20 years ago, Croom speculated that race played a factor in why Mal Moore hired Shula over himself. Between Croom and Shula, Croom was the only one with collegiate coaching experience. Despite this and being a Tuscaloosa native, he missed out on the position.
Later in 2004, Croom made history as the first Black head coach in the SEC when he took over the football program at Mississippi State University. Examining the NCAA and NFL today, the vast majority of coaches are still white, despite the dynamic of each football team being far more diverse.
While 50 years seems like a long time since the Alabama Crimson Tide was officially ordered to integrate, it seems as though perhaps the University hasn’t come as far as one would expect. After all, the largest Greek system in the country just integrated its sororities in 2013. Even yet, most of the sororities and fraternities are still primarily segregated by race.
For Black students and athletes on campus, it isn’t a far stretch to see evidence of racial injustices still present on campus today. From racially insensitive jokes, to plaques in memory of the Civil War, to buildings touting the names of former KKK Klansmen, evidence of the past still lingers into the present.
The University earns so much money from the Black student-athletes’ skill sets and praises their culture. It is time for the Alabama Crimson Tide to make substantial steps in honoring and respecting them as people too.
It is a travesty that people can cheer on a Black man on the football field on Saturdays then fear the same man walking down the street the next day. We must open our eyes and listen to their stories. We can no longer barricade our hearts and sit in the dark.
It is past time to move forward. It is time for real change.