“History. 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. It’s disrespectful and it does not speak for Black Americans.” Gwen Berry told reporters as she explained her choice to turn away from the flag during the national anthem at the US Olympic trials.
When the anthem started at the US Olympic trials on Saturday, Gwen Berry was on the podium after she finished third in the trials. But while the anthem played, Berry instead placed her left hand on her hip and shuffled her feet. She then turned to face the stands instead of the flag. Towards the end of the anthem, she picked up a black T-shirt that said “Activist Athlete” on the front. She then proceeded to drap it over her head; all the while first and second-place finishers DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen had their hands over their hearts while the anthem played.
Gwendolyn Denise Berry, has a long history of activism, the 31-year-old Olympic hammer thrower said she was “set up”. She has also clarified after she faced some backlash; saying that while she found the song “disrespectful” she “never said” she “hated the country.”
Gwen Berry Is Pissed
Talking about the supposed “Set Up”, The anthem, does not accompany medals ceremonies at the U.S. trials unlike the Olympics. The hammer throwers received their awards on Saturday moments before the beginning of the evening session. “I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry, who is outspoken about racial injustice in the U.S., said of the timing of the anthem. “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,” she said. “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.”
Speaking on the accusation that she was set up, a spokesperson for USA Track and Field commented; “[T]he national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. today. 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.”
On Saturday, the anthem started at 5.25 pm.
The American track and field athlete said she will use her position to raise awareness about social injustice in the U.S. “My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” she 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.”
The hammer thrower’s gesture on Saturday was hardly noticed by those in attendance. People only reacted after images of her turning away from the flag hit social media.