Olympic Hammer Thrower Gwen Berry Turns Back on U.S. Flag During National Anthem

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Jun. 29 2021, Published 9:18 a.m. ET

Sports activism has been at an all-time high in recent years. From Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to Carmelo Anthony addressing race and violence at the 2016 ESPYS to Martellus and Michael Bennett speaking in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, athletes are using their platforms more and more to address social injustice.

If we go back in history, we see that this is not a new concept. John Carlos and Tommy Smith rose "Black Power" fists after getting gold and bronze medals for the U.S. at the 1968 Olympics. Today, Olympic hammer throw contender Gwen Berry is also using sports as a platform for protests.

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How did Gwen Berry protest at the U.S. Olympic trials?

Berry hasn't shied away from her activism. She proudly states that she's using her sports prowess as a vehicle for her socio-political statements to aid in the fight against systemic racism. Her Instagram account features her wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts and spreading images and messages of support for protesters marching against police brutality.

While the national anthem was being played during the Olympic trials when she was on the podium, Berry faced away from the flag. During the song she took out a black t-shirt that read: "Activist Athlete" on it. First and second place hammer throw competitors DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen faced the flag as the song played. During the 2019 Pan American Games, she also protested "The Star-Spangled Banner" as well.

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Unsurprisingly, her actions caught the attention of many conservative pundits and politicians. Dan Crenshaw, Texas congressman, suggested that Berry should be removed from the Olympic team for her actions. Senator Ted Cruz penned a tweet containing a link to an article about Berry's protest and wrote, "Why does the left hate America?"

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Former Governor of Wisconsin and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker also tweeted a link to the article with one word as the caption: "Shocking!" He also wrote, "What is wrong with people? Growing up, everyone stood for the American flag. Didn't matter your politics, race, sex, income, religion; everyone stood for the flag. It was one of those civic rituals that brought us together. It still should today."

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Berry rejects the narrative that she hates America, stating that the ire from individuals who've criticized her actions demonstrates that they "rally patriotism over basic morality" and wrote, "The commercials, statements, and phony sentiments regarding black lives were just a hoax."

She also wrote, "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."

Berry also stated that she felt the anthem being played at that moment was a "setup." In an interview with the Associated Press, she explained, "They did it on purpose. I was pissed, to be honest."

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She continued, "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 spokesperson Susan Hazzard said the anthem was always scheduled to be played at 5:20 p.m. on Saturday.

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"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.

Berry qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and says that her protests will continue regardless of backlash: "My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports. 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."

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