U.S. Olympic track and field athlete Gwen Berry ignited a major debate when she protested during the national anthem at the Tokyo Olympic trials on June 26.
Berry took third place in the hammer throw at the trials and qualified for her second Olympics. While she was standing on the medal podium, the national anthem began to play. Berry turned away from the flag instead of holding her hand over her chest in honor of the country. Then she raised a T-shirt with the words “activist athlete” over her face. Many in Black America saluted her stance. Other Americans blasted the act.
This isn’t the first time Berry has gotten backlash for being outspoken.
In 2019, after receiving a medal at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, she was given a 12-month probation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for raising a fist to protest social injustice in the U.S.
“For me, it’s always been something that’s been underlyingly uncomfortable, knowing that I’m rocking this big ‘USA’ across my chest when everything about America is to demean and to keep Black people at the bottom of the totem pole,” Berry said at the time. “It has always, always, always been something I have been very uncomfortable with.”
Sponsors including Nike refused to renew Berry’s contracts. Nike, however, spent big bucks on backing former NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s anthem-kneeling protests with evocative ads supporting racial justice, Upworthy reported.
The USOPC later reversed its decision and now permits athletes to protest at domestic events. It apologized to Berry. Asked if she would wear the U.S. uniform if she were to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Berry said she was conflicted.
Berry again must defend her stance. In a series of tweets, she stood her ground and responded to Republican critics including Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) — who claimed that athletes who protest like she did should be removed from the team completely — and Fox News. People are so focused on patriotism that they can’t focus on the root of why she and other athletes are protesting, Berry said.
In one of her tweets, she said, “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”.
On Tuesday, ghetto intellectual™ @kzshabazz tweeted Berry’s “rocking this big ‘USA’ across my chest” comment: “#ADOS “For me, it’s always been something that’s been underlyingly uncomfortable, knowing that I’m rocking this big ‘USA’ across my chest when everything about America is to demean and to keep Black people at the bottom of the totem pole” – Gwen Berry”.
Jayson @jaybizball replied, “Ignore whiteness & the comment bots. The ever-increasing majority of us don’t subscribe a faux spiritual significance (‘patriotism’) to arbitrary borders drawn around a piece of land or give God‐like reverence to a cloth and a song. Our concern is with morality and doing right.”
Mika @thatssomika posted, “Yup they only love it when black Athletes perform at greatest, shut up and toe the line.”
Berry’s actions have made many take notice — on Twitter and beyond.
Even the White House took note. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended Berry’s actions when asked about the Olympic hammer thrower’s protest, Yahoo reported. Psaki said she hasn’t spoken with President Joe Biden about the incident specifically.
“He would also say, of course, that 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. And it means respecting the rights of people granted to them in the Constitution to peacefully protest,” Psaki said.
Berry is one of several Black Olympic athletes who have taken a stand against U.S. racism.
Track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos held their fists in the air after receiving their medals on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games. U.S. Olympic officials, pressured by the International Olympic Committee, later suspended them and sent them home, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
Smith and Carlos, winners of the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200-meter running event, wore black socks and no shoes to symbolize African-American poverty and a black glove to express African-American strength and unity, Smithsonian Magazine reported. (Smith also had on a scarf, and Carlos wore beads in memory of lynching victims.) As the national anthem played, each man bowed his head and raised a fist. Their images became iconic athletic protests.
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Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, threw his gold medal from the 1960 Games into the Ohio River after coming back as an Olympic winner, only to have a restaurant refuse to serve him because he was Black, Ireland’s Own reported.
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