Hammer thrower and activist Gwen Berry wondered why the anthem was played just as she was on the podium.
Hammer thrower Gwen Berry turned away from the American flag as the national anthem was played at the US Olympic track and field trials this weekend. The outspoken Black athlete and activist was also seen putting a T-shirt over her head that read “Activist Athlete” after she was awarded a bronze medal Saturday at the trials in Eugene, Oregon. Her competitors DeAnna Price, who won first place, and Brooke Andersen, second place winner, put their hands over their hearts and faced the flag. According to HuffPost, the anthem of an athlete’s nation is played when medals are awarded at the Olympics. But at the trials, the anthem is played only once each evening. Berry said the playing of the anthem just as she was on the podium "felt like it was a set-up."
“I feel like it was a setup, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the timing, according to The Associated Press. She said the anthem was supposed to be played before the athletes walked out, but then was played when they were on the podium. “I was pissed, to be honest. I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important,” Berry said. “The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.” DeAnna Price, who won the event, backed Berry. "I think people should say whatever they want to say. I'm proud of her,'' said Price.
Berry has previously and famously protested during the anthem by raising her fist at the 2019 Pan American Games. The New York Times reported that the athlete was reprimanded by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and was left unsponsored. Sponsors pulled the plug on lesser-known athletes raising their voices, but Color of Change provided a novel arrangement between athlete and sponsor. Color of Change Senior Campaigns Director Jade Magnus Ogunnaike explained that corporations "dropped Gwen Berry, and when we asked them to see her, they refused to pick her back up as a sponsor," reported The Washington Post. Ogunnaike added, “It’s less about what a company shows on the outside and more about what’s happening on the inside. We found there were a ton of internal advocates who were extremely dedicated to ensuring that Gwen Berry had an athletic sponsorship.” As grateful as Berry is, the athlete emphasized to reporters that her “purpose and mission” is “bigger than sports. I’m here to represent those ... who died due to systemic racism. What I need to do is speak for my community, to represent my community and to help my community. Because that’s more important than sports,” she added.
According to CBS News, USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said in a statement that the anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. on Saturday. "We didn't wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards. The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule," she said. As for Berry, she has worked hard to be where she is today. The athlete was raised by her grandmother in a home of 13 in Ferguson, MO. She had a son at age 15. Later, she earned a college scholarship and became a top hammer thrower. She worked two jobs—at Dick’s Sporting Goods during the day and delivering Insomnia Cookies at night—as she trained to qualify for the Olympics back in 2016. For her recent stance, she has received a lot of backlash from conservatives and right-wing media. The athlete responded to Fox News' report of the incident by tweeting: F*ck you.