Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry has said she is proud to wear the team uniform of the United States, despite protesting the National Anthem during the trials.
Berry, 31, was on the podium at the trials in Oregon on June 26 when the anthem started playing. Her white competitors, DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen, turned to face the flag and placed their hands on their hearts but Berry, a vocal BLM activist, turned to face the stands, put her hands on her hips and then held up a t-shirt bearing the words ‘athlete activist’.
Berry made it safely through her qualifying round on Saturday, in her first appearance at the Tokyo Games. The final is on Tuesday.
‘I feel like I’ve earned the right to wear this uniform,’ Berry said on Sunday.
Hammer thrower Gwen Berry came third in her qualifying event on Saturday, putting her through to Tuesday’s final
Berry, 31, from Ferguson, Missouri, is known for her activism as much as her athletic prowess
Berry on Sunday, the day after qualifying, said that she has ‘earned the right’ to wear the Team USA uniform
While the anthem played at the June 26 trials in Eugene, Oregon , Gwen Berry (left) placed her left hand on her hip and shuffled her feet before turning away toward the stands
She said she hopes to be standing on the podium on Tuesday.
Berry said that she was focused on winning, rather than on the drama around her
‘I’ll represent the oppressed people,’ Berry said. ‘That’s been my message for the last three years.’
Two years ago, during the Pan American Games, Berry raised her fist during the medal ceremony – putting her front and center in the debate about sports stars and protests.
She said she had switched off the background noise.
‘I’m just focused on what I need to do,’ Berry said.
‘Because all those people who hate me, they aren’t here. So they can’t affect me.’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Berry’s right to ‘peacefully protest’.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended hammer thrower Gwen Berry’s right to ‘peacefully protest’
Gwendolyn Berry raises her Activist Athlete T-Shirt over her head during the metal ceremony after the finals of the women’s hammer throw at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials
Psaki said that while she and Biden hadn’t spoken specifically about the incident, Biden is ‘incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem and all that it represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform all around the world.’
She added: ‘He would also say, of course, that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we are, as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals, and that means respecting the rights of people, granted to them in the Constitution, to peacefully protest.’
Berry, in interviews after the trials, she said she felt like officials only played the anthem to ‘set her up’ and that she had been told it would be played before she walked on to the podium, not while she was there.
She also said she didn’t want to be standing for pictures for long because it was hot.
The trial organizers insisted this wasn’t the case and that the anthem played every day at the same time.
Berry was later slammed by conservatives like Senator Ted Cruz, who said her protest was disrespectful and who claimed she hated her country.
Dan Crenshaw, a representative for Texas and former Navy SEAL, said she ought to be removed from the Olympics.
‘The entire point of the Olympic team is to represent the United States of America. It’s the entire point. It’s one thing when these NBA players do it, OK we’ll just stop watching. But now the Olympics Team?’ he said in an interview with Fox.
Berry responded on Instagram: ‘I said what I said… I meant what I said.. STOP PLAYING WITH ME!! PERIOD!’
On Twitter, she said: ‘I never said I hated this country! People try to put words in my mouth but they can’t. That’s why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE.
‘These comments really show that: 1.) people in American rally patriotism over basic morality. 2.) Even after the murder of George Floyd and so many others; the commercials, statements, and phony sentiments regarding black lives were just a hoax.’
Berry lashed out at Fox News and Dan Crenshaw, saying they were ‘obsessed’ with her
Berry retweeted one user who told Dan Crenshaw, a military veteran who lost an eye in combat, to ‘kiss her a**’ after he called for her to be removed from the Olympic team
Berry also defended her protest in a series of tweets and Instagram posts, saying ‘I meant what I said!’
Cruz also took to Twitter to react to the story, writing: ‘Why does the Left hate America?
‘Sure, we have our faults, but no nation in the history of the world has liberated more people from captivity, has lifted more out of poverty, has bled more for freedom, or has blessed more w/ abundance. God bless America.’
‘Gwen Berry has a world of options if she doesn’t want to compete under our flag.
‘Not a penny of taxpayer money should fund her campaign to make Americans hate each other.’
Toward the end of the anthem, Berry plucked up her black T-shirt with the words ‘Activist Athlete’ emblazoned on the front, and draped it over her head
Gwendolyn Berry, left, looks away as DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen stand for the national anthem after the finals of the women’s hammer throw at the Olympic trials on Saturday
Berry previously protested during competition against racism and said that she felt insulted by the Star-Spangled Banner playing as she took the podium.
‘They had enough opportunities to play the national anthem before we got up there,’ she said. ‘I was thinking about what I should do.
‘Eventually I stayed there and I swayed, I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful.
‘It really wasn’t a message. I didn’t really want to be up there.
‘Like I said, it was a setup. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade,’ added Berry.
‘They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there.
‘But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important.
‘The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.’
USA Track and Field said the anthem was played once every day at the trials according to a published schedule.
‘I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,’ said Berry (right), who finished third to make her second U.S. Olympic team. ‘I was pissed, to be honest.’
Berry raises her fist at the trials on Thursday, after USOPC reversed its ban on athlete protests and apologized for sanctioning her for a similar protest in 2019
Saturday’s schedule listed the time for the anthem as 5.20pm, though it began at around 5.25pm.
‘We didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards,’ spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said in a statement.
‘The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule.’
GWEN BERRY LOST SPONSORSHIP AFTER RAISING FIST AT 2019 PAN AM GAMES
Gwen Berry has long used her platform as an athlete to protest racism in America.
The 31-year-old grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, in a household of 13. She was raised largely by her grandmother.
Berry became pregnant at 15 and had her son, Derrick. It was at college, which she attended on a scholarship as a single mom, that she developed her talent for hammer throw.
Berry at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima
Gwen Berry raises her first on the podium at the 2019 Pan Am Lima Games
Before qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, she worked two jobs – one at Dicks Sporting Goods and another delivering Insomnia cookies – to support herself and her family.
Her activism first made headlines in 2019, when she raised her fist at the Pan Am Games in Lima after winning gold.
She was put on probation by the International Olympic Committee for a year and she says she lost $50,000 because of it.
‘It affected my family and how I’m able to take care of them. I lost sponsorships. My career has been assassinated too. Or at least they’re trying to assassinate it,’ she said at the time.
It was around the same Colin Kaepernick’s protests in the NFL were triggering a debate of whether or not athletes should be allowed to use the field or sport they played in to make political or social protests.
‘We’re thrilled with the women’s hammer throw team that selected themselves for the Games,’ added Hazzard.
Berry was suspended for 12 months by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for a raised fist at the 2019 Pan American Games, but did so again before Thursday’s qualifying round as part of her quest for social change.
The USOPC in March reversed its stance and said that athletes competing in the U.S. Olympic trials can protest, including kneeling or raising a clenched fist on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem.
Berry has promised to use her position to keep raising awareness about social injustices in her home country.
‘My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,’ Berry said.
‘I’m here to represent those … who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part.
‘That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.’
Last June, Berry demanded a letter of apology from USOPC for sanctioning her over her 2019 Pan American Games protest, and then revised her demand to ask for a public apology from USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland.
Hirshland met the demand and issued a statement after meeting with Berry privately.
‘I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,’ Hirshland said in the statement.
‘I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.’
Athletes are allowed to protest at next year’s Tokyo Games without facing any form of punishment.
The decision is a response to a set of recommendations from a USOPC athlete group that seeks changes to the much-maligned Rule 50 of the IOC Olympic Charter, which prohibits inside-the-lines protests at the games.
It was this rule that most famously led to the ouster of U.S. medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City after the sprinters raised their fists on the medals stand to protest racial inequality in the United States.
‘Prohibiting athletes to freely express their views during the Games, particularly those from historically underrepresented and minoritized groups, contributes to the dehumanization of athletes that is at odds with key Olympic and Paralympic values,’ said the athlete statement that accompanied the recommendations.
The athletes seek changes that would bring the policy closer to those in major U.S. and international leagues, most of which relaxed their rules regarding demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May at the hands of Minneapolis police and the unrest that ensued.
NBA players, for instance, pushed repeatedly for assurances they could use their platform to address social justice issues.
‘You see athletes in sports leagues becoming aware of the power they have in driving social change,’ said Yannick Kluch, a sports culture professor at Rowan University who helped the athletes tackle these issues.