On Saturday, like every night this past week during the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, the national anthem played to mark the evening session. That night though, The Star-Spangled Banner played while athlete-turned-activist Gwen Berry was on the podium to receive her bronze medal in hammer throw.
Berry fidgeted and turned away from the American flag, facing the stands instead. Toward the end after snubbing Old Glory, she draped a black t-shirt with the words "Activist Athlete" on it over her head, according to ESPN.
"I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose," Berry said of the timing of the national anthem. "I was pissed, to be honest."
Gold and silver medal winners DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen were pictured standing with their hands over their hearts, in comparison to Berry's display.
According to ESPN, "Price won the event with a throw of 263 feet, 6 inches (80.31 meters), which was nearly 7 feet longer than Berry's throw. Price broke the meet record on four of her six throws, and the last two of those throws also broke the American record." Berry said she would use her position as an American athlete competing in the Tokyo Olympics "to keep raising awareness about social injustices in her home country."
"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.''
Berry said that it was no coincidence that the anthem, which has played every evening during the trials, was played while she was on the podium.
USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said that "the 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 music started at 5:25 p.m.
"They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,'' said Berry. "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.'' Berry, who is no stranger to controversial displays while on the podium, had raised a fist while on the podium two summers ago at the Pan-Am games.
She received a sanction for that display.
In the wake, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee committed to not punishing athletes who raise fists or kneel at the trials or in Tokyo. The ruling clashed with the International Olympic Committee who said it will enforce its Rule 50 that bans such demonstrations inside the lines.
Gold medal winner Price praised Berry, saying: "I think people should say whatever they want to say. I'm proud of her."
Berry said she needs to get "my body right, my mind right and my spirit right'' for the Olympics, where the women's hammer throw is set to start on August 1.
"I don't need to do anything sport-wise,'' Barry added, commenting that she doesn't need to be on the podium in Tokyo to make an impact. "What I need to do is speak for my community, to represent my community and to help my community. Because that's more important than sports.''
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