A U.S. hammer thrower turned away from the American flag as she stood on the medal podium at the Olympic trials during the national anthem on Saturday, saying she’s “pissed” the Star-Spangled Banner was played as she received her bronze medal.
Gwen Berry — who qualified for her second U.S. Olympic team during the trials — shifted to face the stands rather than the flag before holding up a black shirt that reads “Activist Athlete.”
“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the timing of the anthem. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
“They had enough opportunities to play the national anthem before we got up there,” Berry said in Oregon, where the trials are being held. “I was thinking about what I should do. Eventually I stayed there and I swayed, I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful.”
Berry went on to call the playing of the national anthem a “set up” and that she didn’t plan on staging a protest.
‘”I didn’t really want to be up there,” she said. “Like I said, it was a setup. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade.”
And so, while winner DeAnna Price and second-place finisher Brooke Andersen stood still on the podium with their hands over the hearts and stared straight ahead at the American and Oregon flags, Berry fidgeted and paced on the third step. Then turned away. And finally grabbed her T-shirt.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry 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.”
“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.”
A USA Track and Field rep disputed Berry’s characterization of the anthem playing.
“The national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. today,” said spokeswoman Susan Hazzard. “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.”
Unlike at the Olympics, the national anthem is not played during medal ceremonies at the Olympic trials. It has been played once per day at a set time. On Saturday, the music started at 5:25.
Berry’s Star Spangled-sub rankled several online commentators.
“We’re going to see more of this,” said author and activist Dinesh D’Souza.
“It’s going to make patriotic Americans cheer for foreign competitors and against the anti-American Americans.”
“What is wrong with people?” wondered former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
“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,” he added. “It still should today.”
Radio talk host Mark Davis says Berry “needs to learn that it’s not about the anthem ‘speaking for her,’ it’s about a moment of gratitude for this country that makes her Olympic dream possible.”
“Shameful self-absorption,” he added.
This isn’t the first time Berry has caused controversy.
US Olympic athletes were prohibited in January 2020 from making political statements during anthems, after Berry was put on probation for raising her fist during the Pan-American Games in Peru in August 2019. US Olympic and Paralympic Committee in April reversed course, allowing kneeling and other forms of protests during the national anthem.
Berry’s protest follows a long line of professional athletes –Olympic and otherwise — using the national anthem as a tool to protest racism.
Most famously, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two black track and field athletes, raised their fists, each clad in a black glove, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played while they stood on the podium.
More recently, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 began taking a knee when the national anthem played before games, to protest police brutality.
-With Post wires