“The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has,” Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry said on Saturday after she protested the national anthem at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials
Team USA’s Gwen Berry made a statement at Saturday’s U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon, when she protested the national anthem.
The Missouri-born hammer thrower, 31, said she felt “setup” by the timing of the nightly anthem, which happened during her medal ceremony after it was delayed by five minutes, according to ESPN.
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“I feel like it was a setup, and they did it on purpose,” said the outspoken activist, who’s promised to use her platform at the Tokyo Olympics to raise awareness of social injustice in the U.S. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry added. “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 spokeswoman Susan Hazzard noted that the national anthem was scheduled to start at 5:20 p.m. “We didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards,” Hazzard said. “The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule.” According to ESPN, the anthem began at 5:25 p.m. on Saturday.
When “The Star-Spangled Banner” began, gold-medalist DeAnna Price and silver-medalist Brooke Andersen turned to the flag and placed their hands over the hearts to recognize the anthem. Meanwhile, Berry stood on the third-place podium and turned slightly in the other direction, so that she was facing the stands. She put her hand on her hip and fidgeted before draping a black “activist athlete” t-shirt over her head.
“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.”
Price said she was proud to share the podium with Berry, commending her for her actions. “I think people should say whatever they want to say. I’m proud of her,” Price said.
Berry previously received a sanction after she raised her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games, where she won gold. “Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about,” she told USA Today at the time. “Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse.”
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And although they committed to not enforcing the controversial longstanding Rule 50 of the IOC Olympic Charter, which prohibits protests inside competition venues at the Olympic Games, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland noted, “we can’t control the actions others may take in response.”
“I have confidence you’ll make the best decision for you, your sport and your fellow competitors,” Hirshland wrote in a letter at the time.