Olympian Gwen Berry Says National Anthem 'Disrespects' Black Americans After Flag Protest
Hammer thrower Gwen Berry explained the reason why she protested the national anthem during the U.S. Olympic Trials
Gwen Berry has promised to use her platform at the Tokyo Olympics to raise awareness of social injustice in the country, and now she's setting the record straight about why she chose to protest the national anthem.
During the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon last Saturday, the 31-year-old hammer thrower put her hand on her hip before draping a black "activist athlete" T-shirt over her head as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played.
Berry said that the athletes were told they would be introduced to the crowd either before or after the playing of the national anthem. However, they were asked "at the last minute" to stand on the podium as the national anthem played, which is why Berry felt the situation was "a setup."
On Tuesday, the athlete spoke to the Black News Channel (BNC) to clarify her actions and respond to the criticism she's faced since the trials.
"I never said that I hated the country — never said that. All I said was that I respect my people enough to not stand or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people, point blank, period," Berry told the outlet.
"If you know your history, you know the full song of the national anthem, the third paragraph speaks to slaves in America, our blood being slain... all over the floor," she continued. "It's disrespectful and it does not speak for Black Americans. It's obvious. There's no question."
The lyrics Berry alluded to read: "And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion. A home and a Country should leave us no more? Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave. From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave. O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."
On Monday, Republican lawmakers bashed Berry over her flag protest. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton told Fox News that Berry shouldn't compete for the country if she's "so embarrassed by America." Rep. Dan Crenshaw, of Texas, also told the network he believed Berry "should be removed from the team," which led to the hammer thrower sharing her thoughts on Twitter.
Athletes protesting social issues on the Olympic stage has a long history. Olympic news website Inside the Games reported that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is considering relaxing bans on athlete protests at this year's Summer Olympics. IOC rules currently state that athletes will face sanctions for protesting.
Following Berry's demonstration on Saturday, the Olympic hammer thrower told ESPN that she's going to the Tokyo Games to represent her community.
"I think sports is a distraction. Sports is entertainment," she said. "But my purpose and my voice and mission is bigger than the sport. So me being able to represent my communities and my people and those who have died at the hands of police brutality, those who have died to this systemic racism, I feel like that's the important part."
Berry added, "That's why I'm going. And that's why I was here today."
To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23rd on NBC.