Two-time U.S. Olympic fencer Race Imboden has escaped a ban and instead been handed a twelve-month probation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee for his podium protest at the Pan-American Games in Peru last month.
Speaking yesterday on the ‘Edge of Sports’ podcast hosted by Dave Zirin from The Nation, Imboden revealed that he had been inspired by his mother to use his platform to raise his voice against the injustice he currently sees in America.
Having taken a knee previously and received what he described as ‘zero press’ for it (he and teammate Miles Chamley-Watson both took a knee at a 2017 World Cup event in Cairo) Imboden said that it was only as he waited for the men’s team foil medal ceremony in Lima that he decided to take his stand.
“The week before the Pan-Am games, leading up to my competition was the terrible shootings in Dayton and El Paso,” he said, “and it had come out that the President’s rhetoric had been a direct influence on one of the shooters.”
“And so while I was waiting for the podium I saw a post from my mother actually, saying that it was time for everyone to use their voice, for everyone to speak up. So I decided at that moment that it was my time to use my voice, and that was the moment I knew I wanted to protest.”
In the immediate aftermath, as the image of a white male fencer taking a knee gained traction — especially after it was re-tweeted by former NFL star Colin Kaepernick — Imboden was encouraged by the initial response.
“The original response was a lot of love,” he said.
“People were thanking me for sticking up for them, thanking me for sticking up for people who aren’t me and who have been affected by injustice.
“But once it hit mainstream media — outside the New York bubble — I was inundated with hate.
“My phone got doxxed, letters arrived at my house threatening me, and now I think it’s about a 60/40 split.”
Commenting on accusations his protest had been a premeditated publicity stunt, the world number two said no, describing it as an ‘instantaneous’ decision to act.
“It was definitely instantaneous,” Imboden said, “it wasn’t a pre-planned, thought-out thing.”
“The shootings were the catalyst, those were the ideas that made me actually take the knee, but it was about being aware; aware of the injustices, the racism and about being influenced by people like Colin Kaepernick, and seeing him talking about things like police brutality.”
Now the subject of a twelve-month probation period handed down in a letter from the USOPC, Imboden said that while he was thankful for the opportunity to continue to perform in his sport, he envisioned a time in the future when athletes would be even more outspoken.
“I feel blessed that I get to do the sport that I love,” Imboden told the ‘Edge of Sports’ podcast, “but at the same time this is obviously the USOC’s way of saying ‘please don’t do this again or we’ll punish you.’
“(However) I think they’re going to have a hard time with that in the future (because) as we move forward I think athletes will become more outspoken, and it’ll be impossible to stop politics being intertwined with sport.
“It’s something that happens now and something that always will happen in the future.”
For her part, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirschland, who sent letters of reprimand to Imboden and hammer thrower Gwen Berry, (Berry had also raised a fist during her own Pan-Am medal ceremony) warned that harsher punishments were more likely for athletes who chose to stage similar demonstrations forthwith — an apparent attempt to discourage them from doing the same at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“It is important for me to point out,” she wrote in the letters, copies of which were obtained by the Associated Press, “that going forward, issuing a reprimand to other athletes in a similar instance is insufficient.”
“We recognize that we must more clearly define for Team USA athletes what a breach of these rules will mean in the future.
“Working with the athletes and national governing body councils, we are committed to more explicitly defining what the consequences will be for members of Team USA who protest at future Games.”
You can listen to the entire interview with Race Imboden on the ‘Edge of Sports’ podcast with Dave Zirin here.