Andrea Martinez had just woken up from a nap when she saw the video of her Team USA Paintball teammate.
Her husband had awakened her, telling her something was up with her team, as her phone “was going crazy,” she said. Her teammates, who were competing on the East Coast, were frantically trying to contact her to alert her about the TikTok video that was setting off a firestorm.
Once she opened the video, Martinez could not believe what she was seeing.
Jessica Maiolo, a Team USA Paintball member, had posted a 15-second TikTok video of herself in front of an image of a TV displaying a news story about a teenage boy suffering from Covid-19. “Ma’am, your kid does not need a Covid shot. Your kid needs a f—— treadmill,” Maiolo says in the video, which has been removed. “That’s what he needs.”
“I saw the video, and I was really disappointed,” said Martinez, 39. “It’s not in line with me and my values and the things that I believe in, obviously.” She said the video was extra disappointing because she was at home in Chino, California, battling Covid, despite having been vaccinated.
Maiolo did not respond to multiple requests for comment. She has apologized on her Instagram page.
The video, which NBC News viewed before it was deleted, has caused waves in the paintball community since it was posted Thursday, with some on social media deeming it anti-vaccination and fatphobic. Team USA Paintball indefinitely removed Maiolo from the team in the wake of the backlash.
“We believe that players must at all times consider the weight of their words, and align themselves with the values of our organization,” Team USA Paintball said in a statement Monday, in which it announced that Maiolo had been removed from the team.
Paintball players from the San Diego Dynasty, a professional paintball team, said the video put the sport — which they said is largely a welcoming and warm community — in a negative light.
“A lot of people are paying attention to [paintball] right now, and it absolutely, 110 percent gives us a terrible image,” said Leah Mumford, 24, a former paintball player, adding that the video “is absolutely not a representation of Team USA.”
Some smaller organizations that are tangentially related to Team USA Paintball said they were inundated with messages and backlash, as well, even though they have no connection to Maiolo.
On her Instagram account, Maiolo posted a statement saying that she regrets the situation she has put her teammates in and that, given the chance to go back, she would choose her words more carefully.
“It was never my intention to shame any individual, my reaction to the story about the young boy actually comes from a place of deep fear that people believe they have little hope in the way of staying healthy and being in control of their own wellness,” Maiolo wrote in a statement posted Monday.
But the damage, some in the paintball community say, might already have been done.
Alex Fraige, 38, and Ryan Greenspan, 39, who play professional paintball for the San Diego Dynasty, said that paintball is an inclusive sport and that Maiolo’s message shaming someone for the way he looks is antithetical to the values they have learned playing the game.
“It’s unfortunate, because one person’s knee-jerk, crass, ridiculous opinion can reflect now on a whole community of people,” Fraige said. “In no way does she represent the paintball community. Yes, she’s a part of it, but she’s not a spokesperson for it.”
However, some paintball players said, some of the backlash the team has gotten for its handling of Maiolo’s suspension and her ultimate removal largely stems from misunderstandings about how Team USA Paintball operates.
Those on social media who were upset by Maiolo’s comments were further annoyed by posts on Instagram that showed Maiolo at a Team USA Paintball practice in Boston, after the statement saying she had been suspended was released.
Other players noted that Team USA Paintball, which is not a pro organization but rather a small nonprofit team with players from around the country, is not able to pay for its players’ travel. Instead, players pay for their own travel and share things like rental cars and hotel rooms.
So when Maiolo was suspended while she was on the road, she had no choice but to stay with her teammates until they were ready to head to the airport. The team said that while Maiolo was on location during the practice, she did not participate.
Some who spoke to NBC News said they feel Maiolo’s removal is a fitting punishment and that they hope people will not associate one bad TikTok video with an entire community of players.
“I think it was the right call,” Martinez said. “If we’re going to represent all people, we shouldn’t be saying certain things and doing certain things. People look at us and they should feel proud. They shouldn’t feel like this group doesn’t represent us.”
Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather
A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.
The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.
“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.
The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.
In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.
Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.
“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”
The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.
“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”
Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.
More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.
Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.
Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.
The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.
So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.
Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.
“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”
Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park
A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.
The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.
He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.
The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.
The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.
“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”
Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.
The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.
House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight
House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.
The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.
The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.
The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.
Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.
“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”
It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.
The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.
However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.
Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.
Haley Talbot contributed.
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