Olympic fencer Nzingha Prescod subject to racial abuse on Zoom call: 'I was about to be in tears'

Two-time Olympic fencer Nzingha Prescod hopped on a Zoom call earlier this month with several of her former fencing teammates and fans — something that has become common practice for athletes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quickly, though, the call went south.

Prescod — the first African-American woman to win a medal at the world championships — was subject to hateful and racist language during that call by an unknown participant. 

The messages continued to appear randomly over the next hour, too. Prescod, according to USA Today, was “called the worst slur imaginable” and “told she wasn’t worth anything because of the color of her skin.”

“I was about to be in tears,” Prescod said Saturday, via USA Today. “I said, ‘Are we ending our call? Because this is crazy.’”

USA Fencing’s sports performance manager Brandon Dyett, who is also black, was on the call too and experienced the same racism. Prescod said she was told that USA Fencing was trying to remove the person from the chat, however the call still continued and she felt powerless. 

“It was very confusing when I expected someone to stand up for me and no one did,” Prescod said, via USA Today.

She had a parent reach out to her on social media, too, who said her young child started crying when the slurs popped up.

“I had a parent message me on Instagram who said, ‘My son saw that and started crying and I had to pull him out of the chat,’” Prescod said, via USA Today. “You can’t demonstrate to young kids that that’s acceptable. That it’s acceptable to happen and acceptable for you to say nothing.”

Members of the U.S. women's fencing team — from left, Margaret Lu, Nzingha Prescod, Lee Kiefer, and Nicole Ross — pose for a selfie with their medals after winning the team women's foil finals at the Fencing World Championships in China in 2018. They were the first American squad to win a senior world championship in the foil discipline. (Li Bo/Xinhua/AP)

The latest racist ‘zoombomb’ in the sports world

With more and more people turning to Zoom to hold conference calls and video chats during the coronavirus pandemic, “zoombombing” has become a troubling trend.

The NHL faced a similar issue just days before Prescod’s call, too, when someone hacked into their call and hurled racial slurs at New York Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller. 

“We held an online video chat with fans and New York Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller, during which a vile individual hijacked the chat to post racial slurs, which we disabled as soon as possible,” the team said in a statement after the incident. “We were incredibly appalled by this behavior, which has no place online, on the ice or anywhere, and we are investigating the matter.”

Prescod, who retired earlier this year after winning four world championship medals in her career because she needs a hip replacement, said USA Fencing has since apologized to both her and Dyett. She is now working with the organization to create a diversity inclusion campaign, too, with the hope to educate those in the sport “about the black and brown experience,” according to USA Today

“There’s a lot of hurt in the black experience, whether we’re aware or not. And I feel lucky to be around people that care to learn about it,” Prescod said, via USA Today. “It’s unfortunate that it transpired like this and that this is not an isolated issue in a predominantly white sport. But I do believe [USA Fencing] cares and will invest in making it a better, more inclusive and supportive atmosphere for people that look like me.”

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