The Pink Mask of Shame (Update)

It might have helped had the United States Olympic men’s epee team not blown the team competition. They went into the third round up against Japan by seven touches. They ended up losing by six touches, Curtis McDowald giving up eight touches in his final bout, as he stood there, dancing, watching, guaranteeing that the US would lose.

It happens that you lose. It happens that you get beaten. That’s the nature of fencing, of sports. But you don’t go down without a fight. You don’t lose standing there watching your seven touch lead disappear. There was a fourth person on the team, the alternate, but he never got to fence. Maybe the others were tired, worn down by the competition. Maybe the fourth fencer, who is also an excellent epee, wouldn’t have given up eight touches in the final bout. But apparently, he was fencer non grata by his own teammates.

When Alen Hadzic fenced for Columbia, he was accused of nonconsenual sex in a Title IX proceeding and suspended for a year. While his lawyer isn’t exactly giving up details, he suggested that this was a case of post-hoc regret, consent withdrawn after the fact. Hadzic was later accused of grabbing a woman’s butt.

It may be that the team fencers know more about what really happened then appears in the stories. Or it may be that they’re doing what all “decent” people do these days, believe accusations, condemn in perpetuity the offenders and put on a performance to prove their virtue.

On Friday, the men’s team conveyed their displeasure to the world, wearing pink face masks in support of sexual assault victims. It made for a striking image as Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald and Yeisser Ramirez appeared in the light-colored masks, while Hadzic was the odd-man-out in black.

Bold move, right? Except that they fenced with, practiced with, been around Hadzic all the time up until then. National level fencing is a small world, and they all train together, fence together, compete with one another, constantly. What relationship they had with Hadzic is unknown, although Jake Hoyle was on the Columbia fencing team with Hadzic and pretty much every epee of that caliber knows every other epee pretty well.* But there was no protest against him all those years, no shunning, no performance, until the Olympics.

Jackie Dubrovich, an Olympic fencer who was in Tokyo, called the move by her teammates “PERFORMATIVE ACTIVISM” on Instagram. She called for accountability.

“THE PEOPLE/SYSTEMS WHO ENABLED & PROTECTED A VIOLENT PREDATOR ARE NOT BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE,” she wrote. “FEMALE ATHLETES WERE NOT PROTECTED & OUR SAFETY WAS DEEMED UNIMPORTANT.”

Dubrovich was a Columbia foil fencer. No doubt she knew that Hadzic had been suspended for a year. No doubt she also knew that when he was named as an alternate to the Olympic team, which is based on USFA scoring, he was attacked as a “violent predator” although there is nothing to suggest such a thing beyond the usual hyperbolic outrage of the conveniently passionate. Did Dubrovich believe that Hadzic was some psychotic wandering rapist around whom no woman could escape, or was her concern that women were so incapable of surviving proximity to Hadiz because they were so weak and fragile that his rapistness would overcome them?

It’s not merely nonsense, but nonsense that was replayed for the sake of taking this Olympic moment to damn Hadzic on the only significant stage a fencer is ever likely to enjoy. Ramirez, Hoyle and McDowald were Olympic epee fencers, even if they fenced for the fewest number of bouts possible. But while they couldn’t muster the fortitude to push their seven touch lead to beat Japan, they would not be denied their chance to put on pink masks in an effort to condemn their own teammate and show the world how woke they were.

Update: Whether this relates to any accusation against Hadzic, is accurate or is just facile piling on since it will never be tested is unclear, but this is the only substantive information I’ve seen.

Katya English, a former fencer who dated Hadzic on and off for about a year before and during their first year at college, said their last physical interaction in 2010 left her upset and shaken. During a sexual encounter in his dorm room, when she told him she wanted to stop, he berated and pressured her to continue, she recalled. Looking back at what happened to her when she was 18, she said she has “come to understand what happened to me was a form of sexual coercion.”

“If I were a woman in Tokyo, I would absolutely demand security if he was going to be on the premises,” said English, who now works at the East Los Angeles Women’s Center supporting survivors of rape and domestic abuse. She has also submitted a report to SafeSport.

H/T Chris Halkides

*Full disclosure: While my son trained with and competed against Hadzic, they were never friendly. Hadzic was a couple years older and not part of same crowd.

12 thoughts on “The Pink Mask of Shame (Update)

  1. Miles

    I’m going to take a wild leap of faith and rely on the judge who considered the SafeSport arbitration and concluded that Hadzic, whatever he had done years before, was neither a threat to anyone or had committed an offense so grievous that he couldn’t be on the Olympic team nor in proximity to women. So if murderers can be fawned over and given a second chance, Hadzic’s “offense” against delicate womanhood was so horrific that they had to seize the moment to damage him at the Olympics.

    And I thought fencers were the smart athletes (saber excepted).

    1. SHG Post author

      I have no real clue what the accusations were and what process Columbia afforded Hadzic. But he was never charged with a crime and never convicted. To use the Olympic stage to try to humiliate and attack their own teammate is disgraceful.

    2. Rengit

      One of the top comments on the Twitter thread wants to 1) know what the criteria were for his reinstatement via the arbitration process and 2) who the arbitrators were. The first one is fair enough to know, people should be able to assess the rules, but why would you want to know who they are unless you think that you know better than them and that they should be kicked off of future arbitrations for delivering a result Twitter doesn’t approve of? Why even bother with a process if if you think the process should be overturned by social media? I strongly doubt there were any conflicts of interest between Hadzic and the arbitrators, sports arbitration panels tend to be much more strict about that sort of thing than, for example, Title IX panels.

  2. B. McLeod

    So, what say the women of Tokyo? Are they alarmed that this allegedly coercive sexual Beast is prowling the streets of their city?

  3. Epeeist

    A very astute fencing post. First, the bouts. The key bout was Hoyle’s, where Uyama knew he had to put it all on the line if he was going to give Kano a chance to win, and he did. Hoyle wasn’t fencing to win, but to not lose, so he posed no serious threat to Uyama’s taking risks, and they paid off. Had Hoyle fought for the win, he might not have ended his bout with Japan still in the match, but by playing defense (poorly), he gave Japan the opening they never should have had and they took it.

    By McDowald’s bout, Kano was down two touches, knew it was within reach and went for it. If he didn’t, he would lose. If he failed, he would lose, He had nothing to lose by going for it. McDowald seemed to be ready in the beginning, but as Kano pressed him, he went flat-footed and didn’t seem try anything other than defense. After his two fleches in the beginning, he never seriously attacked again. And by the third minute, it looked like he thought it was a lost cause and just gave up. When he went down two, he needed to go on the attack, shift the momentum and do what Kano had done to him. He never did. It was painful to watch.

    As for the masks, this wasn’t some social protest, but a direct attack on their own teammate. Maybe Hadzic deserved it, but you don’t do that on the Olympic stage against your own teammate. If they had a problem with him, they should have handled in privately (and years ago, which as you note, they did not). But I blame Kornel as coach. It was his job to keep the children in line, at least publicly. It was also his job to have coached Hoyle and McDowald to fence to win rather than take up space on the strip.

    1. SHG Post author

      This was deeply disturbing. This isn’t the way epees behaved, whether fencing or treating their fellow epees. I am angry that this is what epee has become.

      1. Epeeist

        I have no basis to say this, but I suspect they were shamed into it by the women epees and didn’t have the guts to say this was inappropriate.

    1. SHG Post author

      It was, and I feel some pangs of regret for being so critical. At the same time, I am sufficiently outraged at how they treated their teammate that airing this criticism was justified.

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