When the four members of the U.S. men’s fencing team arrived in Tokyo on Friday for the Olympics, the casual observer might have thought that Jake Hoyle, Curtis MacDowold, Yisser Ramirez, and Alan Hadzic were united and ready for their opening match against Japan (which they later lost). But their uniforms told a different story: During the performance, three of the fencers wore light pink masks and one wore black. And the lack of uniformity explains the reason for this.
Hoyle, McDowald and Ramirez showed up to the Olympics on Friday wearing pink masks in a planned protest against Hadzic, who is currently accused of sexual assault and under investigation. The trio reportedly wore pink masks in solidarity with victims of sexual assault and in condemnation that the Olympics decided to allow a man accused of such a crime to compete. “They decided to make a statement that they did not support his presence,” an anonymous source told BuzzFeed News. “They wanted to make a distinction among themselves that they don’t support sexual assault or abuse of women.”
Hadzic was accused of sexual assault by three women between 2013 and 2015. The athlete denies the allegations, and NPR reports that he also successfully appealed a disqualification that would have kept him out of the U.S. national team. (When Hadzic was first selected for the men’s epee team for the 2020 Olympics as a reserve athlete, six women fencers also issued a statement urging the Olympic Committee to reconsider his eligibility. “We are seriously concerned about the impact Mr. Hadzic’s potential presence will have on other athletes on Team USA,” they wrote). Although Hadzic eventually made it to the Olympics this weekend, he was separated from the rest of the Olympians. As part of a “security plan,” he stayed in a hotel rather than the Olympic Village, and The New York Times reports that he also flew to Tokyo separately from the rest of his team.
Despite the fact that teal is the official color dedicated to sexual assault, the American team’s choice to wear pink masks is nothing out of the ordinary. Pink often symbolizes femininity, compassion and kindness, and by wearing masks of this hue, the trio of athletes could be construed as expressing support for Hadzic’s accusers. Nevertheless, reactions to their style statement on social media have been divided. Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American Olympic medalist and fencer, welcomed the statement, tweeting, “Thanks to the team for taking a stand.” Others, however, called the wearing of the masks performative activism. Jackie Dubrovich, a member of the U.S. Olympic fencing team, wrote on Instagram that people and systems that “allowed and protected a violent predator are not responsible….. Performative activism does not solve the problem at hand here. Female athletes were not protected, and our safety was deemed unimportant.”
Hadzic told USA Today yesterday that he confronted his teammates about the masked protest. “They never asked me about my side of the story,” Hadzic told the publication. “They didn’t ask for proof or ask how I felt. I just told (Hoyle) that I was frankly embarrassed to be his teammate.” His three teammates, however, have yet to comment publicly on the demonstration.