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Few programs can match the success of the UCLA gymnastics team, but it appears no other program is experiencing quite as much internal turmoil.
A conflict that reportedly started over freshman Alexis Jeffrey's use of a racial slur while singing along to a song has resulted in a three-month fight over the program's handling of the incident, Jeffrey transferring to LSU and one of the program's seniors calling for third-year head coach Chris Waller to be fired.
That senior is Margzetta Frazier, who appeared on the “Small Doses with Amanda Seales” podcast on Wednesday, via the Daily Bruin:
“I want the head coach gone,” Frazier said on the podcast. “I want a statement put out about us, protecting the girls.”
As the Los Angeles Times lays out, the conflict began in early fall when several gymnasts heard Jeffrey singing lyrics containing a slur. Two other gymnasts reportedly confronted Jeffrey after hearing about the incident and tried to explain to her why her teammates were offended and sought an apology. Jeffrey reportedly denied she had done anything wrong.
Frazier said on the podcast that Jeffrey said the language was normal where she grew up (she was born in Warrensburg, Missouri) and later texted a teammate she was going to harm herself. In response to that, the team had a meeting in which they were instructed to treat Jeffrey with "grace and compassion." The situation soon evolved into an extended stretch of meetings with Waller, senior associate athletic director Christina Rivera and mental health and racism experts that did little to ease the gymnasts' concerns.
It got to the point one gymnast, Norah Flatley, publicly implored UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond to respond to an email last week.
@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
That call-out reportedly led to a meeting between Jarmond and the gymnasts, who told the Times that Jarmond admitted the administration handled the situation poorly. The gymnasts were reportedly encouraged, but that goodwill apparently evaporated when Jarmond published a statement extolling the efforts of the last three months:
A statement from athletic director Martin Jarmond. pic.twitter.com/PzAaL22HMO
— UCLA Athletics (@UCLAAthletics) January 25, 2022
Things reportedly came to a head in a team meeting when a group of gymnasts requested Jeffrey apologize and be suspended for two meets, at which point Jeffrey informed her coaches she was leaving the program.
As this was happening, UCLA — a premier program that has been outspoken in the fight against racial injustice and held a Black Excellence meet last year — opened its season with its worst team score in seven years. In its most recent meet, it finished second to Oregon State.