Sometimes the best thing to say is to say nothing at all.
Failing that, the proper course is to listen to concerns, acknowledge any errors, make assurances of progress, and then issue a sincere apology. People are human; we make mistakes; and human beings are generally a forgiving lot. As the kids say, take the L and move on. Or, as Nick Saban says, don’t waste a failure.
Alabama Gymnastics basically did none of those things yesterday.
On Wednesday morning we reported on the case of Tide Gymnast Tia Kiaku and her allegations of some racially-charged incidents and language at the University of Alabama.
Yesterday, AL.com followed up with Kiaku in a more in-depth piece that was, if anything, more damning than exculpatory. And, per Kiaku, the rot reportedly goes much deeper than the one instance with Assistant Coach Bill Lorenz:
Kiaku shared other instances with AL.com of what she believed represented a wider problem with racism within the Alabama gymnastics program. Kiaku recounted Duckworth showing pictures of Alabama’s former African-American gymnasts on a wall but saying of current volunteer assistant coach Aja Sims, “She’s not really black. She wasn’t really raised black.”
Kiaku also provided examples of what she felt were inappropriate comments from teammates, including use of the N-word, one teammate complaining about Kiaku’s rap music and a teammate referring to her speech as “your people’s language.”
University of Alabama AD Greg Byrne did address the situation yesterday, at least from a personnel perspective, and a Title IX complaint and investigation were allegedly conducted.
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.
This would seem to be an ideal time for the program to issue a sincere apology then, right? Maybe a full-throated statement from Big Boss Byrne?
That’s not what happened at all. Instead, in an incredibly tone-deaf move, Gymnastics first released its “we’re all in this together,” kumbaya video —
A message created by our student-athletes. pic.twitter.com/jcnPRCJYnx— Alabama Gymnastics (@BamaGymnastics) June 4, 2020
That would have been fine last week, even on Tuesday. But there were more pressing issues at hand than platitudes. And, when given a chance to finally and fully address the situation, what we got instead was a word salad of non-apologetic nothingness from Coach Duckworth:
“I feel throughout this experience we have all learned and are continuing to learn together. As the head coach, I am ultimately responsible for this program. There was a report made, and while I cannot get into specifics on that, I can say it resulted in many discussions, conversations and training, which have also resulted in increased awareness as well as growth personally and professionally.
“No one in life is exempt from mistakes, regret, heartache and challenging issues. Our core values have always been respect, integrity and class while providing an open and safe community for everyone associated with this program. We strive to learn with one another and grow with a greater understanding as we continue to foster an inclusive and unified family environment.”
Notice what’s not included in there?
And she is getting rightly, deservedly pummeled for it — from fans and stakeholders alike.
It’s not my job to call for Bill Lorenz’s head on a pike, nor is it my job to call for Dana’s job in this instance.
I have personal feelings of course: the man is a state actor and educator, one entrusted with the supervision and mentorship of a diverse range of young women. Either he’s too culturally illiterate to know what “back of the bus” means, and thus he has no business being in that role. Or, he’s a tone-deaf dehumanization cretin who thinks that this sort of meathead humor just slays with a woman whose parents were the first generation permitted to vote — in which case, again, he’s too dumb for this job.
But, in either case, now would be a very good time for Duckworth to actually lead from the front; to put into force the very words she released last night “As the head coach, I am ultimately responsible for this program.”
By all means then, shoulder that responsibility — this culture is occurring on your watch. And owning that program, taking responsibility means, at a minimum, apologizing.
This isn’t another loss to a mediocre team, one that can be poo-pooed away with some well-worn homilies. Platitudes aren’t going to cut it.
Read the room. Claim that mantle of leadership.
And, if this program cannot do so, then perhaps it is time to find someone who will.