Hammer Thrower Gwen Berry Sparks Activism At U.S. Olympic Trials

While there were no noticeable podium protests at the U.S. Olympic swimming Trials, hammer thrower Gwen Berry, a Black American, protested on the podium at the U.S. track and field Olympic Trials on Saturday.

She was receiving her bronze medal on the podium from the hammer throw event, which secured her position to represent the U.S. at the Tokyo Games. Then, the national anthem began to play.

“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said according to the New York Times. She said the anthem was supposed to play before the athletes got on the podium. Throughout the meet, the anthem had been played just once per night (as it was at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials), and Berry had been staying out of the spotlight during those moments. But a delay in playing it on Saturday meant that it wound up being played as she received her medal.

Berry turned away from the flag while the national anthem played. Towards the end, she placed her black T-shirt, which read “Activist Athlete,” over her head.

“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” Berry said, according to the Guardian. “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.”

Berry’s protest was met with a storm of headlines and social media messages, both in an uproar and in support of her actions.

She responded to those upset over her decision yesterday on social media:

George Floyd was a Black American who was killed by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin who knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes last year. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in April.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) released protest guidelines for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Trials  in March.

Berry’s actions fall within the USOPC’s protest guidelines which reference the podium and the national anthem, explicitly saying kneeling during it is permitted. Most of the impermissible actions provided by the USOPC include hate speech or violence.

Permitted actions in the USOPC’s “Racial & Social Justice Demonstrations,” area are defined as: “A Demonstration, which does not include any Impermissible Elements, that is explicitly aimed at (1) advancing racial and social justice; or (2) promoting the human dignity of individuals or groups that have historically been underrepresented, minoritized, or marginalized in their respective societal context.”

Among the permitted actions are:

  • Wearing a hat or face mask with phrases such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Trans Lives Matter’ or words such ‘equality,’ ‘justice,’ ‘peace,’ ‘respect,’ ‘solidarity,’ or ‘inclusion.’
  • Orally advocating for equity/equal rights for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals,
  • Holding up one’s fist at the start line or on the podium.
  • Kneeling on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem.
  • Advocating for equal treatment of underrepresented, marginalized, or minoritized groups around the world, or against systemic barriers to such equal treatment.
  • Advocating for communities free from police violence, or against systemic police discrimination against Black individuals or other marginalized populations.

You can read more about the USOPC protest rules for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Trials here and for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games here.

Berry has had a history of activism on the international stage. She raised her fist during the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima after winning gold. 

At the time, Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter stated “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” 

She was issued a 12-month probationary period meaning she could have faced more serious sanctions for further breaches of the USOPC code of conduct. This cost Berry multiple sponsors and about two-thirds of her income, she told NBC Sports at the time.

In December 2020, The Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice recommended that the USOPC end its prohibition of the peaceful protest of athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

In response, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland declared the USOPC will not sanction athletes for their protests as long as they follow the USOPC guidelines.

The USOPC Athlete Advisory Committee (AAC) has also been an avid supporter of athletes’ right to peacefully protest. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin, a member of the AAC, released a video on the subject in April saying:

“Are you to be atop that podium, and those moments, for those few moments, you will lead your country. You wanna take a knee? Lead us by taking a knee. You wanna raise a fist? Lead us by raising a fist. You wanna cry tears of joy? Lead us with your tears.

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1 year ago

Consider this hypothetical…she goes to the Olympics and medals. While on the podium, the anthem plays for China, Iran, or North Korea–countries with atrocious human rights violations of minorities and women. Will she be consistent and turn her back on those flags and anthems as well, or are you fanboys and girls only cool with her disrespecting the US flag and anthem? We all know she would do no such thing. So not only is she disrespectful, she’s a disrespectful hypocrite. Doesn’t the fact that she would likely show more respect to other countries than her own justify the opinion of those saying that she should leave and go to those other countries?

Supreme Shakur
1 year ago

I for one agree with what Gwen did. Why should one represent a racist kountry,that has done nothing but oppress people of colour. More revolutionary stance need to transpire. Until the people actually take back this .korrupt government that is murdering, and enslaving our people.Things will never change. I am a revolutionary….. I have spoken.

1 year ago

If she doesn’t respect the flag, the anthem, and the country, the USA, that they stand for she is free to leave the country and play elsewhere, although many countries have severe punishment for disloyalty. Anybody who sponsors her is on my do-not-buy list. The US Government needs to curtail all support to the US Olympics as long as they allow this type of action.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bilmar318
joe sacca
1 year ago

she should be banned from competing for America, she hates it so much, go compete for a country with out racist beginnings, oh wait there are NONE

1 year ago

“How dare someone speak their mind in a way I don’t like! I’m uncomfortable and therefore I will place blame on the person making me uncomfortable instead of reflecting on my feelings!”
Some of y’all need to learn when to shut up lol

1 year ago

Clearly by turning her back on the National Anthem and by her statements she has no interest in representing the United States at the Olympics, so we should avail her of that choice.

1 year ago

She could always appeal to the Olympic committee to compete under the unaffiliated Olympic flag. She would still get to compete in Tokyo, but not represent our country since she apparently isn’t too fond of it and what our flag represents. She would likely make a greater point doing so and personally, I don’t think it would be seen as being as disrespectful as what she’s doing now. But then she may not avail herself of all the perks that come with being a US Olympian–actually making a sacrifice to stand up for what she believes in. As it stands now her actions are akin to an unappreciative teenager who is more than happy to take advantage of everything that… Read more »

1 year ago

She absolutely has the right to protest this way, but to do so is a bad look for an olympian, and to call it a ‘set-up’ is a complete farce: is it going to be a ‘set up’ when you’re required to wear Team USA gear (with American colors, no less) in Tokyo?

SwimSwam is not the place for political arguments so I’m not trying to start one. Still, It makes me sad that it’s become so normalized to bash on America over the past 5 or so years. My parents are immigrants who left an authoritarian government and I’m eternally grateful for the United States granting us freedom.

About Annika Johnson

Annika Johnson

Annika came into the sport competitively at age eight, following in the footsteps of her twin sister and older brother. The sibling rivalry was further fueled when all three began focusing on distance freestyle, forcing the family to buy two lap counters. Annika is a three-time Futures finalist in the 200 …

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