Olympic fencer Nzingha Prescod was hurt when what was supposed to be a joyous moment was ruined by a racist troll hiding behind a keyboard.
Prescod logged in to Zoom in early April to interact with members of the fencing community months after her early retirement, USA Today reported. She was forced to leave the sport in January due to a degenerative hip condition. As the call progressed, racist language and insults toward the fencer began to fill the chatroom. Team manager Brandon Dyett, who is African-American, also was on the call.
“Two or three minutes after the session began, someone in the chat wrote ‘n—r, n—-r, n—-r, n—-r!’” Prescod recalled to theGrio. “I didn’t see it at first. I wasn’t monitoring the chat. But when I did click on the chat, someone wrote ‘n—-r, n—-r, n—-r, n—-r!’”
It was a gross violation and made her feel unsafe.
“It was very upsetting. And this was in my space! Fencing is my comfort space,” Prescod told USA Today. “It was very violating and upsetting.”
Prescod was the latest victim of a Zoombombing, a trend where racist hackers interrupt calls hosted by Black people and other marginalized people to harass the participants.
National Hockey League player K’Andre Miller was targeted by trolls a few days before Prescod’s encounter. The call was assembled to celebrate Miller’s drafting to the New York Rangers, but the chat section in his call was filled with the N-word too. Thankfully, the chat was shut down 17 seconds after the messages appeared, according to the New York Post.
“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 Rangers said in a statement. “We were incredibly appalled by this behavior, which has no place online, on the ice, or anywhere, and we are investigating the matter.”
Prescod wasn’t so lucky. USA Fencing officials told her they were trying to get rid of the troll, but the call continued for another hour and so did the messages. The two-time Olympian felt abandoned.
“It was very confusing when I expected someone to stand up for me and no one did,” Prescod said.
USA Fencing initially released a statement acknowledging the incident but did not mention the Black victims. They eventually apologized in a second statement.
“USA Fencing is deeply disturbed by a recent Zoom session with U.S. National Team members, where an attendee directly aggressively targeted one of our Olympic athletes, Nzingha Prescod, and a staff member, Brandon Dyett, with racist and offensive language,” the organization said.
“We sincerely apologize to both of them for not being better prepared to protect them from these attacks.”
On April 22, Zoom announced a new version of the app with updated security features, reported The Guardian. In the new edition, Zoom 5.0, users will be able to report abusive behavior and hosts can password-protect their calls so they can screen participants. The company also upgraded its encryption standard, which helps prevent hacking.