How The Gymnastics Community is Responding to the Black Lives Matter Movement
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to inspire a dialogue on racial equality in the United States (and around the world), members of the gymnastics community are also making their voices heard. From sharing experiences, paying tribute to trailblazers, participating in marches, expressing allyship, making donations, signing petitions, creating resource platforms and more, the gymnastics community is doing its part to make a difference toward creating a better sport and a better world.
When the GOAT speaks, everyone listens. Simone Biles took to Twitter days into the protests, writing, “we have to do better america.” Biles — who is back in the gym and recently debuted a triple-double dismount off the beam into the pit — also called for justice for victims.
Inside Gymnastics was honored to have 1992 Olympian Betty Okino take over our social media platform to share her experiences in the sport, reflect on the current movement, and provide insight into what the gymnastics community can do to continue to work for equality for all. “We all play a role for change… I believe in us,” she said. (The entirety of Okino’s commentary can be viewed on our Story Highlights on Instagram). As the first Black woman to win multiple individual medals at worlds, Okino was a pioneer for gymnastics in the United States and continues to be a powerful voice for racial justice and progress. She also posted a photo of herself with her husband Jacob, who is white, the day after the anniversary of a law that legalized interracial marriages nationwide. Okino wrote, “God’s Love does not segregate.”
“You can’t be what you can’t see.” Margzetta Frazier posted a moving tribute to the Black female gymnasts who came before her, like Gabby Douglas, Elizabeth Price, and Dominique Dawes. She also shared photos of the current U.S. national team, writing, “You can’t even say this isn’t diverse!!”
Tasha Schwikert, who appeared on the cover of the premiere issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine, encouraged people to sign a petition bringing awareness to establishing gymnastics programs at HBCUs. “100+ Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 0 have gymnastics. It’s time for a change,” the headline to the petition page reads. “We need to make this happen!” Schwikert expressed, along with a link to sign the petition.
“As a national sports federation, we believe we have a responsibility to use our platform to stand for what we value most.” USA Gymnastics released a statement, acknowledging their pledge to do better and their responsibility to their athletes saying: “The recent killings of unarmed Black people – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among others – have deeply affected us all, and have sparked a national conversation around the systemic racial injustice that continues to plague our country.”
“We fully recognize that this organization has failed our athletes and the gymnastics community, and it will take more time – and much change – for us to earn your trust. We are working to make that change happen, and to prove to you that we are committed to transforming this organization. We have new leaders, new staff, new policies, and new priorities – which include a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, in addition to our renewed dedication to athlete safety. Taking a stand against injustice is part of those commitments, and requires that we lend our collective voice to be part of the demand for change. So, while this stance is different than what you might expect from the USA Gymnastics of years ago, we think that is a good thing.”
The leadership team and Board of Directors of USAG also outlined actions in their efforts to earn trust, do more and do better for the athletes, sport and community.
Alexis Brown — the University of California Davis alum who knelt during the national anthem at meets — spoke up on Instagram, urging the entire gymnastics community to use their voices and take action. She also participated in a live discussion with activist Jessica Wilson to discuss Black mentorship and representation.
World champ Morgan Hurd called on everyone to “use whatever privilege or platform you have to support” the Black Lives Matter movement. And she’s practicing what she preached — she’s been retweeting up a storm and amplifying other voices to over 17,000 followers.
Nastia Liukin took a break from Instagram out of respect for the Black Lives Matter movement, saying in a statement that she used the time to “reflect, listen, learn, and take action.” She also announced that 10% of proceeds from her leotard collection would go toward Black Lives Matter for the month of June.
Danell Levya, who is Cuban-American, showed his support in a Twitter post written in Spanish. He called on the Cuban-American community to remember that they also had to fight for equality and should help the Black community do the same.
Former University of Michigan Gymnast Alex Bubnov created a platform that compiles resources into one place and can be shared with friends and communities. The platform has comprehensive listings and links for places to donate, petitions to sign, podcasts to listen to, a directory of black-owned businesses and a section to help add resources. They are also seeking additional volunteers to curate more resources.
John Orozco used his platform to call for change and also encouraged allies to join in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The 2012 U.S. Champion expressed that “fighting opression is exhausting, but we have to keep the pressure on til we see change.”
On Tuesday, June 2, thousands of Instagram and Facebook users participated in #BlackoutTuesday, posting a black square as a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Many elites followed suit, including Grace McCallum, Riley McCusker, Sunisa Lee, and Jordan Chiles, who wrote, “Let’s put this to an end! Period!”
Oklahoma’s men’s program released video messages from some of its Black alumni, including Marcus Jordan, a member of Oklahoma’s gymnastics team from 1989–1993. Jordan made a powerful statement, saying, “There’s a greater good that we all can serve.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has spread far and wide, including to many other countries. Danusia Francis has been sharing news and calls to action on Twitter, and posted a #BlackoutTuesday post on Instagram. She also challenged Black women to support each other stating: “We are BLACK WOMEN!….We BUILD…we don’t tear down other BLACK WOMEN!”
In addition, Brazil’s Jade Barbosa showed her support of the movement, along with Claudia Fragapane of Great Britain, Melanie de Jesus dos Santos of France, Eythora Thorsdottir of the Netherlands, and world parallel bars champion Joe Fraser of Great Britain who stated: “The world has been going through a crazy few weeks/months which has left us all on a rollercoaster with our emotions. With everything that has been going on I needed to take some time to process things and that’s why there has been a lack of content from me. I’ve found it amazing seeing the amount of support behind the BLM Movement which has honestly been lifting my spirits so thank you all and let’s continue to spread knowledge and guidance to the areas that need it on these topics so we can make the relevant changes for the future!”
When the University of Oklahoma Black Students Association organized a march on the campus, Minnesota native Maggie Nichols was there to show her support. Nichols, who is the subject of an upcoming Netflix documentary about the Larry Nassar scandal, also released a statement saying that what happened to George Floyd was “blatant racism … that I was sheltered from growing up.”
Some current and former NCAA gymnasts have come forward to say they experienced racism in their programs. Florida alum Kytra Hunter, along with Kennedy Baker, tweeted that her teammates would often make racist remarks during their time there. Afterwards, coach Jenny Rowland and Baker both confirmed that they had started a dialogue, with Baker tweeting, “I appreciate the honest conversation.”
Around the same time, former Alabama gymnast Tia Kiaku posted on Instagram about racist comments during her time at the program, adding that the comments were the reason she left. Alabama’s program released a statement saying, “We stand together,” but Kiaku said it wasn’t enough. Meanwhile, more stories have emerged about racist incidents at Nebraska and Auburn.
Many gymnastics programs and coaches released official statements on social media, including Courtney Kupets Carter, who wrote “I stand by you,” and Jordyn Wieber, who wrote, “My heart hurts.” Mark Williams, who participated in a march in Norman, joined the conversation, writing, “Racism is all too real and remains pervasive.”
When UCLA alum Katelyn Ohashi has something to say, she does it in rhyme. “We’ve watched history repeat through and through, and everyone only watched, because it wasn’t happening to you.”
Inside Gymnastics remains committed to supporting, listening, learning, and amplifying voices for progress, equality and unity.
By Jessica Taylor Price for Inside Gymnastics, with Chris Korotky and Christy Sandmaier
Photos of Kennedy Baker (Florida) and the 2019 Jr. Women’s National Team by Lloyd Smith