Hammer thrower Gwen Berry made headlines Saturday for turning away from the American flag as the national anthem played at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.
Berry was standing on the podium after receiving her bronze prize for finishing third in hammer throwing competition on Saturday. When the national anthem was played, Berry turned away from the American flag.
“While the music played, Berry placed her left hand on her hip and fidgeted. She took a quarter turn, so she was facing the stands, not the flag. Toward the end, she plucked up her black T-shirt with the words ‘Activist Athlete’ emblazoned on the front, and draped it over her head,” ESPN reported.
Even more surprising, Berry alleged event organizers played the national anthem when she was receiving her prize to single her out.
“I feel like it was a setup, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the timing. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
Berry found it to be no matter of coincidence that she was front and center during the anthem. Unlike the Olympics, anthems aren’t played to accompany medal ceremonies at the trials. But the hammer throwers received their awards just before the start of the evening session, which has been kicking off all week with a videotaped rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In fact, Berry admitted the national anthem doesn’t “speak” for her.
“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.”
What did organizers say?
According to USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard, “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.”
The anthem, however, was slightly delayed on Saturday, causing it to play when the hammer throwers were on the podium.
Berry, who has been sanctioned before for podium demonstrations, said her purpose for going to her second Olympics is to bring more awareness to systemic racism.
“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.”