What can I say about the latest protest by an athlete? No, a knee wasn’t taken and there was no refusal to take part in a sporting event. This time it was a turn away from the American flag as the national anthem played during the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. Was turning one’s back while our nation’s anthem played or sung something new? No. But I was a little unclear as to why it happened this time.
Who is Gwen Berry?
Gwendolyn Denise Berry, is an American track and field athlete who specializes in hammer throwing. She is a three-time national champion in the weight throw at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. She was the gold medalist in the hammer at the 2014 Pan American Sports Festival. While in high school she was a basketball player but started taking part in track in the off-season and competed in the triple jump. After graduating in 2007, She began studying for a degree in psychology and criminal justice at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. While there, Berry took up throwing events for the Southern Illinois Salukis collegiate team and came fourth in the hammer throw at the 2008 USA Junior Championships. Berry\’s international debut for the United States came at the 2010 NACAC Under-23 Championships in Athletics where she took the hammer bronze.
On June 12, 2015, Berry posted a photo to her personal WordPress blog in which she was proudly displaying an American Flag by holding it up in the air behind her and smiling. She was celebrating having achieved her life-long dream of representing the United States of America in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
By 2016, Berry was dominant in the weight throw, winning four straight meetings with throws over 24 meters, including a third career win at the 2016 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, and ranking number one globally for the season. However, performances from March to June 2016 were annulled due to a violation of anti-doping procedures. According to USADA Berry used a prohibited medication and accepted a three-month sanction for her rule violation. Berry declared the use of an inhaler containing the prohibited substance Vilanterol Trifenatate, during a competition in Portland, Oregon. The results of that in-competition test were negative. After a thorough review of the case, including Berry’s medical records, USADA has accepted her explanation that the Vilanterol Trifenatate, was not being used to enhance her performance and that she was taking the prescribed medication in a therapeutic dose under the care of a physician.
Taking a deeper dive into Berry’s past trials may explain the reasoning behind her stance on that day in June of 2021. During the award ceremony in the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, Berry was awarded the gold medal for the hammer throw. At that time, she raised her fist at the end of the playing of \”The Star-Spangled Banner\” in protest against injustice in America and a president who she said was making it worse. Berry\’s protests led the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to issue new guidelines to allow peaceful expressions of protest in support of racial and social justice for all human beings. Berry has stated: \”I\’m here to represent those who died [due] to this systemic racism. As you may remember, her protest mirrored what happened during the medal ceremony in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City on October 16, 1968, two Black American athletes, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos, each raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem, \”The Star-Spangled Banner\”.
Of course, Berry was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee, which placed her on probation for 12 months, prohibiting her from any form of protest for a year. Her act cost her sponsorships, and she estimated that she lost $50,000.
Alas! Here We Are
In June 2021, during the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, Berry turned away from the American flag during the playing of \”The Star-Spangled Banner\”. The national anthem was played once a night at the trials, and it began as Berry was on the podium after receiving her bronze medal. Congratulation to her! Berry placed third at the trials in Eugene, Oregon, earning a trip to the Tokyo Olympics next month.
It was reported that as the song played, Berry turned to face the stands, away from the flag, and eventually draped a black T-shirt that read “Activist, Athlete,” over her head. Yes. We as Americans have the right to protest the wrong, but I am still unclear about how Berry felt she was disrespected by the timing of playing the anthem. Berry said the timing was a setup and it was done on purpose. She also stated that she thought the song was going to play before the athletes took to the podium. Did it really matter at what point during the ceremony, the anthem was played? My question is, how was she set up or disrespected?
Her rationale was this – “They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry said, according to the AP. “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.” So, another question I ask, then why was it necessary for Berry to show her actions in this way if the anthem doesn’t speak for her or that it isn’t important to her? What was the purpose?
According to Reuters, Berry, 31, said there were opportunities to play the anthem before they were on the podium. I’m sorry. Am I missing something? I still don’t understand why the timing of the anthem was an issue.
Berry goes on to explain or again rationalize that \”It really wasn\’t a message. I didn\’t really want to be up there. Berry continued to insist it was a setup. She said she was hot and ready for pictures and to get into some shade. Oh my goodness!
USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said in a statement that the national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. Saturday. Still, why was this change, a reason for Berry’s behavior? She did say something about protesting racism, but that statement to me was lost in everything she said before that. Not wanting to be there or that trials weren’t her priority. Really? Is it me? Was she upset at receiving a bronze medal once again for her efforts? Too many questions and not enough answers that make sense; at least not to me.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Berry. At a press conference, Ms. Psaki told reporters that while President Joe Biden respects the flag and national anthem, he believes that part of being a patriotic American means recognizing the sins committed in America’s past and respecting the right of Americans to protest those wrongs. “Part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we, as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals,” Psaki explained. It means respecting the right of people granted to them in the Constitution to peacefully protest,” she continued.
I take pride in my rights and the rights of all people granted under our Constitution. I just need to understand, in this situation, Berry’s explanation that she was set up and disrespected and didn’t want to be there. Perhaps it was her who planned her actions, not them planning when to play the anthem to disrespect her.
I did like the shirt with \”Activist Athlete\” on it! That I can understand!