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Gwen Berry: Asked about protesting if she reaches Olympic podium, athlete says, ‘We’ll see’

(CNN)US athlete Gwen Berry says she is still thinking about how potentially to mark the moment if she were to reach the podium at the Tokyo OIympics given her history of protesting at major track and field events.

Last month, after qualifying for her second Games, hammer thrower Berry turrned away from the flag whilst “The Star-Spangled Banner” played during the medal ceremony and draped a T-shirt reading the words “activist athlete” over her head.
Berry later said she was “set up” on the podium having been told that the anthem would be played before.
 
Her actions caught the attention of supporters and critics alike, especially ahead of Tokyo 2020, where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has upheld the Rule 50 ban preventing athletes from protesting or demonstrating.
Asked if she would observe the Rule 50 ban, Berry told CNN’s Don Lemon: “It depends on how I’m feeling. It depends on what I want to do in that moment, and what I want to do for my people in that moment.”
“And I will do whatever comes upon me and whatever is in my heart,” she added.
The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee permitted athletes to take part in “respectful demonstrations on the topic of racial and social justice” at the trials.
In 2019, Berry lost some of her sponsorships after raising her fist in protest on the podium at the Pan American Games in Peru.
She received a 12-month probation from the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee for the act, which she says was meant to highlight social injustice in America.

Berry (L) drew criticism for her actions from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, with the latter calling for the 32-year-old to be removed from the Olympic team.

 
 

A complicated history

Berry said she made the decision to protest during last month’s trials because she “will not stand for any type of symbol or song that does not stand for all people in America.”
“It’s the first verse, it’s the third verse, it’s all of these words,” she specified. “Freedom, justice. It mentions slaves. These are things that do not hold true for all Americans.”
Penned by Francis Scott Key in 1814, the “Star Spangled Banner” was inspired by the American victory at the Battle of Fort McHenry. Some interpret the lyrics in the third verse, where Key mentions the word “slave,” as him taking pleasure in the deaths of freed enslaved people, who fought with the British against the United States.
The tradition of playing the anthem at US sporting events dates back to 1918, but other Black athletes have suffered from their decision to use that moment to protest about social justice — notably NFL star Colin Kaepernick.
Berry said her desire to take a stand against social inequality is more important than the impact it might have on her career.
“I’ve already been through all of that […] and yet I am still here, still saying that my Black communities need help.”

‘I’m extremely American’

The 32-year-old Berry has drawn criticism for her actions, but she has also received support.
Whilst White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she hadn’t spoken to US President Joe Biden about the incident, she did say he would admit 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 therefore defend Berry’s right to “peacefully protest.”
“I think that was spot on. They said it, I respect it,” Berry said in response. “Let’s be clear. I do respect the constitution, because obviously I was exercising my constitutional right.”
 
Berry holds her "Activist Athlete" T-Shirt over her head.
Berry holds her “Activist Athlete” T-Shirt over her head.
 
She acknowledged the condemnation she had received, saying that while she understood why people took offence, she would continue to stand up for what she believes in.
“They can feel how they feel, but I’m extremely American because I’ll fight for people here, because we’ve endured it here,” she added. “People are still capitalizing off of our unpaid labor force, more than 400 years […] so how can they be mad at me for standing up for my people?”
When asked if she would one day stand up for the flag or the national anthem, she said, “Of course […] until these issues are fixed, until these communities are supported, and until America takes full accountability for the things that Blacks have to face here.
“America is the greatest country in the world. We are capable of fixing these issues. I am tired of talking about them. I won’t do it anymore.”
 

Calls for Gwen Berry’s disqualification from Olympics over flag protest dominated Facebook

While her decision gained a mix of support and opposition offline, U.S. Olympian Gwen Berry’s protest of the American flag during an Olympic trials ceremony late last month has proven unpopular on Facebook, where posts criticizing the hammer thrower dominated the typically conservative-leaning site over the past week. 

KEY FACTS

Data from CrowdTangle, an analytics tool owned by Facebook, shows four of the top 10 most popular link-based posts on the site since June 27 were about the protest, with three from prominent conservatives explicitly criticizing Berry for what she described as a demonstration against systemic racism. 

At over 300,000 reactions, the second most popular post in this category over the past week was right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro sharing an article from his news site, The Daily Wire, about two Republican lawmakers—Rep. Dan Crenshaw (Tex.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (Ariz.)—calling on the U.S. Olympic team to remove Berry. 

The fourth top post featured a similar message from evangelical leader Franklin Graham, who consistently ranks among Facebook’s most popular conservatives. 

“If you’re competing in the Olympics to represent the USA and you disrespect our country by disrespecting the flag or our national anthem, that should automatically disqualify you from the team,” Graham wrote to more than 140,000 reactions, 47,000 comments and 21,000 shares. 

Another post unloading criticism on Berry from Fox News host and popular podcaster Dan Bongino also secured a top 10 spot on Facebook this week. 

CHIEF CRITIC 

“If you hate America, why are you representing us at the Olympics? Go home.” Bongino wrote in a June 20 post to over 156,000 reactions, 22,900 comments and 11,500 shares. 

KEY BACKGROUND 

After placing third in the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, on June 26, Berry turned away from the American flag as the “Star Spangled Banner” played during the podium ceremony. She also draped over her head a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Activist Athlete.” The Olympian later claimed she was “set up” on the podium as she was told the national anthem would be playing earlier than it did, and has defended her actions, saying she “never said” she “hated the country.” 

CRUCIAL QUOTE 

“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.” 

CONTRA 

Though it may appear a one-sided issue on Facebook, Berry’s protest also inspired widespread praise. Other Black track and field athletes, including fellow 2020 Olympians Teahna Daniels and Will Claye, offered encouragement after the protest. “I hope one day the people of this country understand that everything you’re doing is for the LOVE of your people, not because you HATE this country,” wrote Claye, who competes in the long jump and triple jump. Former world record-holding sprinter Michael Johnson also praised Berry for her “courage” in “standing up for beliefs” knowing the backlash she would face. Berry’s protest is the latest in a long history of Black athletes using major sporting events to draw attention to issues of racial injustice. These demonstrations, like the infamous kneeling of former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem at the start of a 2016 NFL game, often receive polarizing reactions and have in some instances ended in negative professional repercussions for the athletes (Kaepernick has remained unsigned by any professional football team since the protest). 

SURPRISING FACT 

The Biden administration defended Berry’s right to “peacefully protest” amid the backlash. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference this week that President Biden would admit that “part of the pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we, as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals.” 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR 

Berry has not said whether she plans to protest again if she makes it to the podium at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics Games. “It depends on how I’m feeling,” Berry told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday. “It depends on what I want to do in that moment, and what I want to do for my people in that moment.” While certain racial and social justice demonstrations were allowed at the trials, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has upheld a ban known as Rule 50 that will prevent athletes from protesting or demonstrating at the competition in Japan. It’s unclear what would happen if Berry were to break the rule as the IOC says in its guidelines that “disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis as necessary.” 

What do you think?

Written by The Editor

warrior dedicated to the cause of fighting the takeover of our culture.

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