My name is Nzingha Prescod. I’m one of Team USA’s Olympic athletes.
A couple months ago, I had an eye-opening experience. USA Fencing hosted a Zoom call to stream a the women’s foil historic World Championship win in 2018. Someone entered the webinar repeatedly calling me and another Black person on the call the N-word, expressing intense hate towards our blackness.
I was viscerally disturbed and visibly uncomfortable. I asked if we should end the call and the operators opted to attempt the person’s removal. It’s unclear if that happened, but soon after, another perpetrator continued with similar violating rhetoric.
There were 70 people on this call. We proceeded. Collectively ignoring it and I sat there feeling terrible – accepting it.
It’s a demoralizing experience to tolerate violation. Feeling encouraged to accept mistreatment you know you do not deserve is problematic.
If I were physically attacked, it would have been clear that an intervention was necessary. The fact this was not given the same weight indicates to me that it was not truly wrong, in their eyes.
There is a major gap in the organization to not be able to recognize that. Being in this position truly forced me to internalize a consensus I had not been privy to – mistreatment of Black people is often considered normal.
And that was my revelation.
This incident has had lingering emotional affects that are wrapped in a forever present insecurity of respect towards my personhood and identity. A personhood and identity that so many people I love possess.
I’m recounting this story to unpack the hurt racism envelopes and express the implications of the deafening silence around it. I represent Team USA when I go out to compete, fight and sacrifice my body. But in this situation, I was left alone to protect myself from harm. The lack of objection to this assault and the willingness to allow it, was at my expense.
I am not the first target of flagrant racism in Olympic sport.
Over the last few months, especially, I have heard numerous accounts of unaddressed assault from my peers across Olympic sports. This is not new.
What is new is this moment and platform to make manifestations of racial discrimination and their mishandlings apparent to the public.
There is congruency of inaction by the USOPC and National Governing Bodies when racist behavior transpires in sport and the broader society. This is the result anyone can expect when you look at how the USOPC and NGBs have situated themselves.
We are Black people before we are Black athletes.
The structure and governance are not adequately equipped to protect and defend us.
In 2017, SafeSport was chartered as a federally authorized resource to protect athletes from all forms of abuse. However, racial discrimination is not one of the types of misconducts addressed.
When you don’t consider race in your governance, it is at the expense of your Black athletes. When you don’t use your platform and position as a core American pillar, to fight for our human rights, it’s at our expense. Those decisions affect our life in sport and the outside world.
Willful ignorance to how Black people are mistreated in sport and outside of sport is complicit in maintaining this status quo. And the status quo is violating to and sometimes deadly for us.
You may not be able to know what experiencing racism and racial discrimination feels like, but it is your responsibility to address your biases and endorsement of white privilege. It is your responsibility to proactively educate yourselves and the organization on racial inequity, the Black experience, and building a culturally competent and anti-racist space for us all to exist. It is your responsibility to adequately codify and penalize racial discrimination in SafeSport and other governing policies and practices. It is your responsibility to hire leadership resources that will properly account for and respect our identities as Black people. It is your responsibility to recognize and publicly support movements protecting and defending Black lives. It is your responsibility to provide access points for youth to racially diversity Olympic sports.
Thank you for celebrating the Black voices in your organizations, we are incredibly strong.
I believe this is a moment where mass learnings can change the “apolitical” story we have sung since our inception. And that is if, and this is a big if, if the leadership substantively cares.
This is how our current reality will change for the better. It requires a bold and dedicated commitment to Black lives.
We are all looking forward to it.
What happened to Nzingha on a USA fencing call earlier this year was appalling and unacceptable. The USOPC condemns racism in all its forms and started work immediately with Nzingha and fencing to take action. We are grateful Nzingha spoke up and shared her story and that she has offered to participate in the athlete-led group with the AAC to help the Olympic and Paralympic community more broadly and actively advocate for social justice, and be a part of the progress and change we want to see both for sport, and for this country.