The Olympic hammer thrower who deliberately turned away from the American flag and covered her face with a shirt that read “Activist Athlete,” Gwendolyn Berry, has received major scrutiny this week for the move and is now speaking out, defending her actions.
Berry placed third at the trials and qualified to represent Team U.S.A. at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next month.
The athlete’s protest has drawn ire from critics and on Tuesday, Berry joined the Black News Channel to defend her actions in purportedly respecting “my people.”
“I never said that I didn’t want to go to the Olympic Games, that’s why I competed and got third and made the team. I never said that I hated the country. I never said that. All I said was I respect my people enough to not stand for or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people. Point blank, period,” Berry told the outlet.
(Video: BNC News)
Berry pointed to the third stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner” which is no longer commonly included in the teaching or singing of the song.
“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. It’s obvious. There’s no question.” Berry asserted.
The stanza in question reads: “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion. A home and a Country should leave us no more? Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave. From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave. O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
A paper released by Stevenson University in 2019 examines “The Star-Spangled Banner” and notes the longstanding debate over the meaning of the line “hireling and slave” and whether it has racist tones or was meant as a “rhetorical tool.”
The athlete’s defense comes after she called the Olympic trial ceremony a “set up” following her previous protest of the anthem at the 2019 Pan-American Games in Peru.
“I feel like it was a setup, and they did it on purpose…I was p*ssed, to be honest,” Berry shared.
Following the athlete’s controversial comments, the White House jumped to her defense.
White House provides convenient cover for Olympic qualifier Gwen Berry amid growing backslash https://t.co/pYBS6AZeEf
— Jack Furnari (@JackBPR) June 29, 2021
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that though she had not specifically discussed the incident with President Biden, he is “incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem and all that it represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform all around the world.”
“He would also say, of course, that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we are, as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals, and that means respecting the rights of people, granted to them in the Constitution, to peacefully protest,” Psaki continued.
Berry tweeted in response to the immediate backlash over the weekend, standing her ground on the issue amid calls for her to step down and not compete on behalf of Team U.S.A.
“At this point, y’all are obsessed with me,” she tweeted alongside a clip of a Fox News segment criticizing her protest.
At this point, y’all are obsessed with me https://t.co/HBWCE28s7x
— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 28, 2021
She also tweeted thanking those who have come to her defense:
“Thank you! I never said I hated this country! People try to put words in my mouth but they can’t. That’s why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE.”
Thank you! I never said I hated this country! People try to put words in my mouth but they can’t. That’s why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE. ✊🏾 https://t.co/fbKB5d9H2I
— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 28, 2021
Last year, the International Olympic Committee cautioned athletes against political displays:
“We believe that the example we set by competing with the world’s best while living in harmony in Olympic Village is a uniquely positive message to send to an increasingly divided world,” the IOC said in a statement in January 2020. This is why it is important, on both a personal and global level, that we keep the venues, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations,” the statement said.
Berry’s declaration that she speaks for “my people” in her actions drew backlash on social media:
Hey, Gwen Berry, what did you mean by, “I love my people.”? I doubt you are including many of us after you turned your back on The Anthem. #Respect #TeamUSA America’s people are all shades. Use your platform to unite the USA, not continue to divide it.
— AmericanCitizen63 (@ACitizen63) June 28, 2021
Gwen Berry: “I love my people.” I thought my people is the American people. I mean isn’t that supposed to be what the Olympics is about?
— d (@pooploopdydoop) June 30, 2021
Gwen Berry, “I love my people.” Who are your people at the Olympics? You’re representing all Americans. I love my people also. Doesn’t mean I hate hearing the American Anthem. Especially on foreign soil. It actually should give you peace you are backed by some great people.
— Dfhappy (@dfhappy) June 28, 2021
Funny how Gwen Berry said “I love MY people”… know who else says that ? The bigot Louis Farrakhan.. https://t.co/7oqEasfK0p
— Anthony, spaghetti’s ready (@ncppf) June 28, 2021
You say you love
Is that Americans
Or Black people
Or Black Americans?
They US Olympic team is supposed to represent all of us as a nation
Try to stop hatin’ pic.twitter.com/myPQD0KKVH
— Jim Hanson (@JimHansonDC) June 29, 2021
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