A top sponsor to U.S. national sports teams said Monday its relationship with USA Fencing is unchanged after American fencer Race Imboden knelt in protest during the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru.
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Imboden, 26, knelt on the podium at a medal ceremony after winning bronze in the individual men’s foil event and gold in the team competition. A U.S. Olympian, Imboden said the protest was meant to call attention to racial and social injustice.
“We support any athlete’s right to free speech, and it has no bearing on our willingness to support the USA teams,” Thorne Research CEO Paul Jacobson said in a statement obtained by FOX Business.
Thorne Research is an Idaho-based nutritional supplement company. The firm sponsors 12 U.S. national teams, including USA Fencing, USA Soccer and USA Hockey, and recently became Ultimate Fighting Championship’s official sports performance nutrition partner.
Nationwide Insurance, another USA Fencing sponsor, did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ request for comment.
In this Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 photo, released by Lima 2019 News Services, Race Imboden of the United States takes a knee, as teammates Mick Itkin and Gerek Meinhardt stand on the podium after winning the gold medal in team's foil, at the Pan American
Imboden is one of dozens of U.S. athletes who have knelt during the national anthem since former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick conducted the first such protest in 2016. The protest drew a rebuke from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which said it was considering disciplinary action against Imboden.
“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature. In these cases, the athletes didn’t adhere to the commitment they made to the organizing committee and the USOPC,” USOPC spokesperson Mark Jones said in a statement. “We respect their rights to express their viewpoints, but we are disappointed that they chose not to honor their commitment. Our leadership are reviewing what consequences may result.”
Imboden represented USA Fencing at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, winning a bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro. He explained his decision to kneel in a series of posts on social media.
"I chose to [sacrifice] my moment today at the top of the podium to call attention to issues that I believe need to be addressed," he said.