Former Florida Gymnast Kennedy Baker Recalls Being Called Racial Slur by Teammate: ‘I Froze'
"Despite winning a national championship and getting a huge ring, my most distinct memory from that year is my teammate calling me a [racial slur]," Kennedy Baker wrote on social media
In a detailed post published to social media, former University of Florida gymnast Kennedy Baker alleges she was called a racial slur by a teammate in 2015 — the same year she helped the team win an NCAA title.
Baker, who is Black, opened up about her experiences in an open letter to the university published on Monday to Twitter. In it, the 24-year-old alleged she was taunted and subjected to microaggressions while under the stewardship of head coach Rhonda Faehn.
"When I arrived in Florida, I was incredibly excited to train under Rhonda Faehn," Baker wrote. "I had met her numerous times, had heard reports about 'how nice she was,' and I was eager to have a coach that valued me, and respected me. Well, she didn't."
Baker recalled a time during her freshman year that, while riding in a car with teammates, she was allegedly called a variation of the n-word by another gymnast.
"I froze in complete disbelief," Baker wrote. "Did she really say that? I looked around the car, almost all upperclassmen, and no one said a word. They awkwardly laughed, and then we drove in radio silence after that."
"I immediately notified Rhonda after the incident occurred and she put together a 'meeting,' " her letter continued. "In this meeting, one of the first things that was said was, 'What is said in this meeting should not leave this meeting,' immediately silencing me, and my fellow teammate Kytra [Hunter]."
The University of Florida did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Baker said that after the meeting ended, she was called back to Faehn's office and was allegedly told to just "get over" what had happened in the car.
"[Faehn] requested I forgive them because we needed to win a championship, and championship winning teams need to be friends," Baker recalled. "So, I did. And we won. And despite winning a national championship and getting a huge ring, my most distinct memory from that year is my teammate calling me a [racial slur]."
Faehn did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
According to ESPN, Faehn left after the season to take a role with USA Gymnastics, and Jenny Rowland took over her position as head coach.
Despite the change in leadership, Baker claimed her teammates continued making offensive racial comments, such as when one of the gymnasts said she "[didn't] like Black guys."
Baker also alleged she was encouraged by a trainer to continue activities despite concerns over her Achilles tendon — which eventually tore later that season.
"My senior year, I knew my [Achilles] was going to tear. I stated that I felt like it was going to tear from September until the season started in January," she wrote.
"Requesting that I do less numbers, the trainer would lie, and said that I 'just had to deal with it' and I could brush through the pain," she continued. "Despite my history with [Achilles] problems, my concerns were brushed aside and instead of cutting me back, she encouraged me to keep going, and to my un surprise, my Achilles tore that season."
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Today, Baker said she has "no ill feelings" toward the university or Rowland.
"Most of my major problems occurred when Rhonda was the head coach. I have spoken to [Rowland] about all of this, and I am hopeful that she will take the necessary steps to make a team that is as inclusive as possible," Baker said at the end of her letter.
"Again, I am hoping that by bringing attention through my experience, I will create a better environment for the teams to come," she concluded. "My intent is not, and was never, to nash the university, but my feelings deserve to be validated and acknowledged. I am hoping that this is the last time I have to make a statement like this, as this does not get any easier, ever."