The US men's fencing team members wore pink face masks during their match against Japan on Friday in order to protest the inclusion of their teammate, who has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald and Yeisser Ramirez were the three athletes who were seen wearing pink masks in support of sexual assault victims to protest one of their own teammates, Alen Hadzic, who has been accused of sexual misconduct dating back to 2013. Hadzic was the only teammate to wear a black mask.
It Was a Planned Protest by the Trio
But the coordinated masks weren't a coincidence; they were a planned protest by the trio against a teammate who is accused of sexual assault, BuzzFeed News reported.
They decided to make a statement that they were not standing for him being there," a fencing athlete not competing in the Tokyo Olympics told BuzzFeed News. "They wanted to make a distinction between themselves that they didn't stand for sexual assault or abuse against women. These athletes wanted to have a voice where US Fencing and SafeSport failed."
Hadzic was Accused of Sexual Misconduct Between 2013 and 2015 by 3 Women
The New York Times and USA Today reported that Alen Hadzic of Montclair, New Jersey, an alternate in the epee fencing team, was accused of sexual impropriety by at least three women. He was initially suspended by the US Center for SafeSport in June, but an arbitrator overturned the suspension, allowing him to compete in Tokyo.
However, Hadzic has denied the allegations levelled against him. His attorney, Michael Palma, told the New York Times that his client had never committed any acts of sexual assault.
USA Fencing Created a "Safety Plan" to Keep Hadzic Away from Women
The fencer was prohibited from staying in the Olympic village. Instead, he's been staying at a hotel nearby. He also was forced to travel to Tokyo separately from his teammates. He was also forbidden from practicing with women teammates.
In an email obtained by USA Today, Kris Ekeren, CEO of USA Fencing, wrote to Hadzic, saying his teammates had the opposite feeling.
"Nevertheless, team athletes have expressed concerns for their safety and well-being arising from your presence, which they say are likely to adversely affect their mental and emotional abilities to prepare and compete at the highest levels required for success in the Olympic Games," Ekeren wrote.
Social Media Reactions
Internet users appreciated the trio for supporting the sexual assault survivors via protesting. One Twitter user wrote, "Very proud of the rest of the team. Everyone involved in the decision to allow him to be there needs to be fired!" Another wrote, "Clearly American sports federations learned nothing from the Nasser reign of terror and abuse. When will the rich and powerful care about the athletes and other victims?"
On the other hand, a few netizens believed that it's not okay to label this person as a criminal, shame and judge him before the law can complete its job. One Twitter user wrote, "In no way do I condone sexual assault, but when did we become a country that supports the "guilty until proven innocent" tenet? What if the allegations are bogus? Then what? This man's reputation has been destroyed for what? Let the investigators do their jobs. Then you can judge."