American fencer kneels to protest Trump, gun violence

Race Imboden kneeled in protest of gun violence and other issues.
Image: Leonardo Fernandez/Getty Images

Fencing might be a sport of play-fighting, but this fencer isn’t messing around.

American fencer and Olympian Race Imboden kneeled in protest of racism and gun violence issues while the national anthem played during his medal ceremony at the Pan American Games on Saturday. Imboden, a member of the gold-winning fencing team, explained his actions on Twitter, saying that the societal problems plaguing America “cut short” his pride for the country, so he kneeled to call attention to the issues.

Imboden’s actions come one week after a weekend of deadly shootings in America, including the El Paso shooting in which the shooter specifically targeted “Mexicans.” Imboden called out Donald Trump as “a president who spreads hate,” connecting his behavior to increasing racism and gun violence in American society.

As reported in the Washington Post, Imboden is one of a many athletes and coaches who are using sports platforms (literal and figurative) to call for social change. That includes a hammer thrower, Gwen Barry, who raised her fist during her medal ceremony at the same Pan American Games. Other demonstrations in recent days came from a men’s soccer player, Team USA’s basketball coach, and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

Organizers of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) say Imboden broke the rules of the games by engaging in political protest. The committee is apparently considering what consequences to levy.

“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature,” Mark Jones, a USOPC spokesperson told the Associated Press. “In this case, Race didn’t adhere to the commitment he made to the organizing committee and the USOPC.” 

Kneeling during the national anthem became a sign of protest popularized in 2016 by former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who did it to shine a brighter light on police brutality and racial inequality. Many other players followed his example embraced the same cause. President Trump called the action disrespectful to the American military — despite the fact that it was expressly not, in Kaepernick’s own words — and he called for a boycott of the NFL. 

While NFL brass originally stood behind Kaepernick’s and other players’ protests, the former San Francisco 49er has been out of a job since 2017. However, Imboden’s actions show that Kaep’s legacy of inspiring athletes to call for social change lives on.

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