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A Team USA paintball player was cut after saying a teen hospitalized with COVID-19 needed ‘a f—ing treadmill’ instead of a ‘COVID shot’

Summary List PlacementA Team USA Women's Paintball athlete has been permanently suspended from the professional group after she said in a since-deleted viral TikTok that a teenager hospitalized with COVID-19 needed "a f---ing treadmill" instead of a vaccine.  Jessica Maiolo's TikTok went viral when it was featured in a separate TikTok video posted by Savannah Sparks (@rx0rcist), a creator who has become a misinformation watchdog on the platform, as NBC News reported. The video shows Maiolo reacting to an "ABC World News Tonight" segment that aired on Thursday, August 5, that addressed rising COVID-19 cases in the United States, particularly among...

left and right: a woman in a white turtleneck standing in front of a TV. the TV has a news headline that reads COVID-19 cases surging

Summary List Placement

A Team USA Women’s Paintball athlete has been permanently suspended from the professional group after she said in a since-deleted viral TikTok that a teenager hospitalized with COVID-19 needed “a f—ing treadmill” instead of a vaccine. 

Jessica Maiolo’s TikTok went viral when it was featured in a separate TikTok video posted by Savannah Sparks (@rx0rcist), a creator who has become a misinformation watchdog on the platform, as NBC News reported.

The video shows Maiolo reacting to an “ABC World News Tonight” segment that aired on Thursday, August 5, that addressed rising COVID-19 cases in the United States, particularly among children. It included an interview with a 17-year-old football player who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida and his mother, who said they regretted not taking the vaccine. 

Sparks’ video, which currently has over 4.5 million views, shows Maiolo reacting to the news statement in a post originally shared on her account, @jessipaintball. 

“Ma’am, your kid does not need a COVID shot,” Maiolo says in the video. “Your kid needs a f—ing treadmill. That’s what he needs.”

In a statement to Insider, Maiolo said that she believed that “if we focused more on our health and what we put into our bodies, we would not have some of the complications that we do.” While doctors say that exercising can help your immune system fight off infections and recent data suggests that physical activity can help prevent severe cases of the virus, exercise is not a “substitute in any way for immunization,” The New York Times reported.

In a statement on its website, Team USA Paintball said it “has no tolerance for discrimination or bullying of any kind” and that it removed Maiolo from the team permanently. 

“It has always been our highest priority to represent our country with integrity and respect,” the statement reads. “To the family that did not need, ask or ever deserve to be put in this position – we thank you for allowing us this chance to show where we stand.”

TikTok has since banned Maiolo’s for violating “multiple Community Guidelines violations,” a banner on her pages reads. TikTok did not immediately respond to Insider’s inquiry.

The New York Post reported that Maiolo had previously shared “fringe theories” about the COVID-19 vaccine and was critical of them. Insider was unable to view Maiolo’s previous posts on TikTok.

Maiolo told Insider that she doesn’t consider herself a “critic” of the COVID vaccine and that she “wasn’t opposed to medical vaccinations.”

Team USA Paintball said it removed Maiolo from the team ahead of the World Championships 

Team USA Paintball is a professional paintball organization that represents the United States U-16, U-19, women’s, and in part men’s paintball teams, according to its Facebook page. The team said in an Instagram post that it will compete at the World Championships in September at the NXL Europe event in Chantilly, France. 

Per the organization’s website, it’s sponsored by G.I. Sportz, Boston Paintball, Paintball Combine, BKi Paintball, the National Xball League (NXL), and Hydra Fit.

Maiolo said in a 2017 interview with paintball blog My Pb Life that she began playing paintball in 2007. She has previously played for Texas Phalanx, a competitive paintball team based out of Dallas, and won a Move of the Event — Divisional award in the 2016 National Xball League Great Lakes Open.

The organization posted a statement on its website and Facebook on Monday saying that Maiolo had been removed from the team, effective immediately, following an investigation into her conduct.

Team USA Paintball did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

Maiolo released a statement on Instagram, saying, “What started out as me expressing my personal opinion about something I feel quite passionately about, has turned into a moment of regret for the situation I have put my teammates, our sponsors and the sport I love into.”

Maiolo added that her “teammates, sponsors, and others unaffiliated” with her had been “targeted” in the backlash to her actions and asked that people not send “messages and threats” to her teammates and friends.

Sparks, who surfaced Maiolo’s video to a wider audience on TikTok, told Insider that she tagged Team USA Paintball’s sponsors in an Instagram post but did not contact her teammates. In a comment on one of her own Instagram posts, Sparks condemned threats.

In a statement provided to Insider, Maiolo said that she was “saddened to learn that my comments concerning the young man with covid were taken out of context.” She claimed that in the caption of her original TikTok post, which is no longer available, she also mentioned “healthy eating habits” in addition to her “treadmill” comment. Insider was unable to view the original post.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to this teenager and anyone who was hurt by my comments,” she told Insider in a second statement. “‘Bullying’ was never my intention. I would also be grateful for the opportunity to apologize to this teenager and his family privately.”

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