UCLA gymnast Margzetta Frazier calls for coaching change amid hostile environment
UCLA gymnastics coach Chris Waller looks on during an intrasquad competition Dec. 17. Senior Margzetta Frazier called for Waller to be fired on a podcast Wednesday. (Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)
Jan. 26, 2022 4:11 p.m.
This post was updated Jan. 31 at 2:15 a.m.
At least one Bruin gymnast has publicly called for coach Chris Waller to be fired.
UCLA gymnastics seniors Margzetta Frazier and Sekai Wright went on comedian and actress Amanda Seales’ podcast, “Small Doses with Amanda Seales,” on Wednesday to discuss the current state of the team.
Frazier called for Waller to be fired, adding that she hasn’t spoken to her coach in weeks.
“I want the head coach gone,” Frazier said on the podcast. “I want a statement put out about us, protecting the girls.”
The podcast appearance comes one day after UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond reportedly met with the team Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Jarmond released a statement on the situation later that day that said the administration has had experts on equity, diversity and inclusion meet with the team over the past 3 1/2 months.
In an interview with the LA Times, Frazier said she was discouraged by Jarmond’s statement because none of the efforts over the previous months had specifically addressed racism on the team.
Frazier opened her remarks on the podcast Wednesday by confirming reports about the transfer of freshman Alexis Jeffrey. Frazier confirmed rumors that Jeffrey – who has since transferred to LSU – used racial slurs while singing song lyrics and was told to stop by multiple members of the team.
LSU Athletics confirmed to The Bruin on Tuesday that Jeffrey had transferred into the program, but said Wednesday the gymnast was not available to comment.
Frazier added that Jeffrey took other measures to degrade her teammates.
“More than one thing was said that was very inappropriate, whether that was racially, whether it was ranking girls on their ugliness or body shape,” Frazier said on the podcast. “And obviously the Black girls would all be at the bottom rank-wise.”
Wright said on the podcast that she took Jeffrey under her wing when the freshman first joined the program, adding that she had heard Jeffrey make inappropriate comments and confronted her about them. When the issue spread across the team, Wright said she took a step back from the situation because she didn’t want to become a target.
“When all this was going down, I kind of just had my mouth shut,” Wright said on the podcast. “I silenced myself because I felt like they were going to silence me regardless of what I said. I had to silence myself because I just didn’t want to be attacked.”
After the team confronted Jeffrey about her use of racial slurs, Jeffrey did not apologize and instead said the kind of language she had used was normal where she grew up, according to Frazier. Following further pushback from the team, Frazier said Jeffrey left practice and texted a teammate that she was going to harm herself.
In response to Jeffrey’s threats, Frazier said the team had a meeting in which it was instructed to “treat (Jeffrey) with grace and compassion.”
Wright, however, said that when she had brought up her own mental health concerns, she was not met with the same response.
“When I was struggling with my mental health and I was threatening to harm myself, I didn’t get any of this treatment,” Wright said on the podcast. “I didn’t get any of the private photo shoots because I couldn’t be around people. I wasn’t shown any grace.”
Frazier said the team requested to meet with the UCLA Athletics administration to discuss the situation for months with no response.
“When I did talk to (an) assistant (athletic director), and I brought that up months later, probably two months later, I brought up the girls in the gym are still miserable – (and) she said, ‘You’re still not over it? I thought we were over this,’” Frazier said on the podcast. “I said, ‘No, we’re not over it.’”
UCLA had its first-ever Black Excellence meet to celebrate its Black gymnasts, past and present. Former Bruin gymnast Nia Dennis brought attention to the program after her floor routine – which featured music from Black artists including 2Pac, Megan Thee Stallion, Kendrick Lamar, Soulja Boy and Beyoncé – went viral last year, while Frazier’s routine also earned hundreds of thousands of views a season ago.
In their season opener Jan. 17, the Bruins were reportedly set to wear their Black Excellence leotards that they debuted a season ago. Instead, Frazier said, the team refused.
“To me, for quite some time, it felt performative,” Frazier said on the podcast. “None of the Black girls feel respected or comfortable. Or any of the girls of color. None of them. We all feel unsafe and scared.”
Wright said she is worried that future Black gymnasts that come through the program will experience the same problems.
“The UCLA gymnastics legacy is going to be tarnished forever,” Wright said on the podcast.