O Martin Where Art Thou?
The UCLA AD has had a horrible few months in the position.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to fix a timeline issue. The initial racial slur incident occurred in 2021 and not 2020 as originally stated.
Let’s get some music to set the mood.
The UCLA athletic department has not had a great few months by any stretch of the imagination, and at the center of it all has been relatively new athletic director Martin Jarmond. I have sung Jarmond’s praises in the past, but I believe in fairness, and to be fair, Jarmond has not done well during this stretch.
This story really begins back in November, when UCLA was getting ready to host Villanova in one of the biggest games of the early season. The hype was understandable, and the game was sold out well in advance, but for some reason, UCLA was unprepared for the number of people who showed up. Pauley Pavilion was inadequately staffed, leading to enormous lines outside just to get in. The general public had it easy; UCLA students trying to get into the game had to endure a crush that looked incredibly bad in the wake of the crowd crush that had killed nine people at Astroworld earlier in the month. No UCLA student was injured, thankfully, but the scene took away from what had been a tremendous night for the program, and Martin Jarmond would issue a press release outlining new policies regarding entrances at Pauley going forward. Overall, not a great look, but one that Jarmond generally handled the aftermath of well. In hindsight, this is where the bad things started.
Various UCLA athletic programs would go into COVID lockdown a few weeks later. The UCLA men’s basketball team would be out for the better part of a month after COVID ran through the locker room; the women’s basketball team similarly sat out for most of December into January. Gymnastics took a hit and shut down for two weeks. All of this is unsurprising in the wake of the omicron variant of COVID-19, but what stood out was the real lack of messaging from the athletic department regarding the status of the team. One of the stand-out moments was when the UCLA men’s team finally started practicing at the end of December, but no one publicly stated what shape the team was in, leading to a lot of speculation thrown out stating that the Bruins were using the virus to avoid a game with Arizona. HIPAA laws being what they are, it is understandable that UCLA did not name names as to who came down with the virus, but the athletic department should have been more proactive in getting information out.
This was highlighted the most in the immediate aftermath of UCLA pulling out of the Holiday Bowl mere hours before the scheduled kickoff. UCLA beat reporters had hinted at COVID problems surfacing in the program in the few days prior to the game, but the true extent of those issues was not known until Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported on the game’s cancellation being the result of UCLA having no defensive line depth available thanks to the virus. The aftermath of the cancellation was not great. Pictures surfaced of UCLA players still engaging in bowl activities while the virus was known to be going through the program, with a host of those players not wearing masks. NC State coach Dave Doeren implied that UCLA had never notified him or his staff of any potential issues; whether this is true or not, UCLA’s general refusal to answer media questions meant this viewpoint was essentially allowed to go unopposed nationally. It also did not help that the Holiday Bowl seemed to back up NC State’s version of events, implying that they too were not aware of UCLA’s issues and would have been more proactive in trying to find a replacement before ultimately canceling the bowl game, and having the president of the bowl present NC State with the trophy further backs up the outside view that UCLA was not exactly forthcoming with information.
What was surprising about the Holiday Bowl situation was the lack of communication from Martin Jarmond. Jarmond had built a reputation in his first year as being accessible and willing to communicate with everyone. As I wrote back in July:
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Martin Jarmond has found early success in his first year at the helm, and much of it has to do with his willingness to engage with people. Jarmond has been extremely accessible this past year, having been to at least one event or practice of all but one of the varsity sports programs at UCLA, and student-athletes have noted how easy it is to have a conversation with him. Jarmond has also been out in the community, hosting Zoom sessions with alumni and consistently responding to fans on social media.
But what we are starting to see is that Jarmond is very willing to communicate….when the news is good. If the news is bad, there is a decent chance Jarmond will enter the same bunker that his predecessor Dan Guerrero made so famous among UCLA supporters.
This brings us to the reason I’m writing this article in the first place: UCLA gymnastics. Details are a bit sketchy for reasons that will be discussed, but I will try to put everything together here (and just to be safe, I will ignore names but you can connect some dots). Earlier this year, a freshman gymnast for UCLA began using racial slurs towards her Asian and black teammates. When her teammates called her out on this, she continued to do so. The rest of the team brought this to the attention of the coaching staff, who told the team to embrace her instead of reprimanding her for her hurtful remarks (unsubstantiated rumors are this gymnast threatened self-harm if she were held accountable). She then put in a transfer and is now at LSU this year. The UCLA gymnasts were then put under a gag order from the coaching staff, being told that they could not talk to the NCAA or the media about the events that had transpired, and based on the recent Twitter comments from stars Norah Flatley and Margzetta Frazier, the athletic department has been at the very least complicit in backing the coaching staff.
The story is finally making its way into the press, with the Daily Bruin pointedly asking head coach Chris Waller about the situation only to receive a no comment and an end to the press conference.
No matter how you look at this, it is a terrible look for UCLA and Martin Jarmond. Again, Jarmond grew his reputation on being accessible to student-athletes, but Flatley is essentially stating that he has been MIA for months now, exactly at the moment that he was needed. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these allegations are only coming out in the wake of the meet in Minnesota, which had a loud and clear tie-in with both Martin Luther King Jr and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Minnesota Women’s Gym @GopherWGym𝙎𝙏𝙍𝙊𝙉𝙂𝙀𝙍 𝙏𝙊𝙂𝙀𝙏𝙃𝙀𝙍 // @IowaGymnastics, @uclagymnastics “ɪɴᴊᴜꜱᴛɪᴄᴇ ᴀɴʏᴡʜᴇʀᴇ ɪꜱ ᴀ ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴊᴜꜱᴛɪᴄᴇ ᴇᴠᴇʀʏᴡʜᴇʀᴇ.” https://t.co/4h2kCkdxrR
This is not a situation that will be swept under the rug. Gymnastics Twitter has spent years now holding power to account in their sport, and UCLA will be no different. I am not here to speculate on the continued employment of anyone at UCLA, though it is hard to see anyone on the UCLA coaching staff sticking around if any part of this is true. But if these accusations are indeed true (and based on the general tenor of the situation, I have no doubt that the general outline is indeed correct) then this is a major slap in the face to all the minority voices who helped build this program, especially in recent years. Kyla Ross, Katelyn Ohashi, Peng-Peng Lee, Nia Dennis, and countless others have helped build this program into the national brand that it is today, and for the school and coaching staff to privately act in the best interest of a student using racial slurs against a significant portion of the team is a huge slap in the face of what those women built and accomplished. Even beyond that, this is the school of Jackie Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rafer Johnson, and Arthur Ashe. This school has a legacy of trying to do right by its athletes of color, and in this regard, UCLA has completely and utterly failed the women in the gymnastics program.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, but at this point, I feel confident in stating this: Martin Jarmond has failed in his job as athletic director these past few months. It is time to see if he can start to regain the trust of the UCLA faithful going forward.