St. John’s University fires coach after racist comments leak on Instagram

St. John’s University moved quickly to fire an assistant fencing coach after his racist online diatribe was leaked on Instagram.

Boris Vaksman was terminated on June 10 after he made his comments during a virtual youth coaching Zoom session held on June 3.

“As soon as the recording was brought to our attention the matter was immediately investigated and the individual was terminated by the university,” SJU Athletic Director Mike Cragg said. “The racist comments expressed are completely unacceptable and a rejection of everything that the university stands for.”

Vaksman was one of three assistant coaches for the St. John’s fencing program since 2006 under Head Coach Yury Gelman. In the Zoom segment leaked to Instagram on June 10, Vaksman says, “Because most of the trouble coming from where? From black people. Because they don’t want to work, they steal, they kill, they drugs.”

The Ukrainian native than said, “I think, what’s his name, Lincoln, made a mistake.”

The following morning, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad reposted the video on her Instagram page.

“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 normalizes racism,” Muhammad wrote on her post.

Vaksman was a four-time National Epee champion and four-time Soviet Union champion. After a brief tenure as Ukraine’s national coach in the 1980s, he began coaching in New York City.

In addition to his work with the St. John’s program, Vaksman was the United States Fencing Association’s junior national team coach from 2005 to 2009. He continued to work with USA Fencing as a referee and coach until he was terminated from the national governing body on June 10.

“We are disgusted by these statements, which are racist, offensive and have no place in the USA Fencing community or in society as a whole,” USA Fencing said in a statement. The organization announced it would take measures to protect its members and athletes “who may be victimized, marginalized, or otherwise injured by such conduct.”

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