A St. John’s Fencing Coach Is Fired After Making Racist Remarks

An assistant fencing coach for St. John’s University was fired this week after making derogatory remarks about black people in a private lesson, including that they cause “the most trouble.”

In what appears to be an edited video, the coach, Boris Vaksman, was recorded saying that black people are troublemakers “because they don’t want to work.”

“They steal,” he said. “They kill.”

“I think, what’s his name, Lincoln, made a mistake,” he added, a reference to President Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

The video follows weeks of unrest and protests over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Mr. Vaksman’s comments echo several racist episodes recorded and widely circulated on the internet, including remarks made by CrossFit’s founder and chief executive. In other cases, organizations across the business spectrum have fired or suspended employees for such behavior.

Mr. Vaksman’s remarks were recorded during a private fencing lesson on June 3, according to a letter from the Fencers Club in Manhattan. It was unclear where the video originated or how it was leaked, and the club did not elaborate.

The club said that it was made aware of the video on June 4 and that two days later the board of directors voted to suspend Mr. Vaksman, require him to take sensitivity training and complete community service.

On Thursday, the club terminated his contract.

“We apologize the result of our initial decision added incremental pain and anger in our community beyond what the incident itself already understandably has to all of us,” the board said.

St. John’s University, where Mr. Vaksman had been an assistant coach for the fencing team since 2006, fired him on Wednesday.

“As soon as the recording was brought to our attention the matter was immediately investigated and the individual was terminated by the university,” Mike Cragg, the school’s athletic director, said in a statement. “The racist comments expressed are completely unacceptable and a rejection of everything for which the university stands.”

Mr. Vaksman did not immediately return requests for comment on Saturday.

According to a biography that was removed from the St. John’s website, Mr. Vaksman is from Ukraine and is a four-time national épée champion, (épée refers to the type of weapon used), and a four-time Soviet Union champion.

In his career, Mr. Vaksman also served as the coach for the United States junior national épée team.

USA Fencing, the national governing body for the sport, addressed Mr. Vaksman’s behavior on Thursday without naming him, saying it was “disgusted” by the racist and offensive remarks.

“USA Fencing stands with our black athletes and all underrepresented minorities within the fencing family and will conduct an immediate investigation,” it said.

The video on social media also caught the attention of Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is the first Muslim woman to represent the United States at the Olympics while wearing a hijab.

Ms. Muhammad had reposted the video of Mr. Vaksman and added her own commentary, according to NJ.com. Her post is no longer available and it is not clear when it was first shared. She could not be reached on Saturday.

“This video is a reminder that coaches and teachers, those people entrusted with building us, educating us, and protecting us, too often perpetuate the discriminatory treatment and behaviors that normalize racism,” she wrote.

On Friday, Ms. Muhammad posted an update to her Instagram story, thanking St. John’s and Mr. Cragg for their swift action.

“Boris Vaksman is a smaller piece in a larger puzzle of white supremacy in the sport of fencing,” she said.

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