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- American female hammer thrower
When Gwen Berry stood on the podium to be recognized for her third-place finish in the hammer throw at the U.S. track and field Olympic Trials on June 26, she said she was shocked to hear The Star-Spangled Banner played.
In response to the national anthem, Berry turned away from the American flag and placed her t-shirt, which read "Activist Athlete", over her head. She later said she felt "set up," because the athletes had previously been told that the anthem would be played either before or after their medal ceremony.
The peaceful protest drew backlash from conservatives like Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R- Texas), who said on Fox News that Berry should be removed from the U.S. Olympic Team, even though the USOPC decided in December that athletes who peacefully protest or demonstrate at the Tokyo Olympics will not be punished.
"I never said that I didn't want to go to the Olympic Games," Berry said in an interview on the Black News Channel. "I never said that I hated the country. All I said was I respect my people enough to not stand or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people point blank, period."
Berry reiterated that she felt like the anthem playing was a set up and explained that her protest was against the historical racism that the song represents.
"If you know your history, you'd know the full song of the national anthem," she said. "The third verse speaks about slaves and our blood being slang and pilchered all over the floor. It's disrespectful and it does not speak for Black Americans."
Berry is an outspoken advocate for athlete activism, and this was not the first time the thrower engaged in peaceful protest during the playing of the national anthem. In 2019, she was placed on probation for a year by the USOPC after she raised her fist on the podium at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Other Black track and field athletes have offered encouragement to Berry on social media in response to the criticism she has received, including fellow 2020 Olympians Will Claye and Teahna Daniels. Former world record holder Michael Johnson also showed support for Berry on Twitter.
"Regardless if you agree with [Berry] or not, you can’t deny her courage standing up for her beliefs knowing the backlash," Johnson wrote. "USA identities as an example of freedom, which includes the freedom to stand, kneel, or peacefully demonstrate when the anthem plays."
Regardless if you agree with @MzBerryThrows or not 1) You can’t deny her courage standing up for her beliefs knowing the backlash. 2) USA identities as an example of freedom which includes the freedom to stand, kneel, or peacefully demonstrate when the anthem plays. https://t.co/3d14ftEPAZ
— Michael Johnson (@MJGold) June 28, 2021
Berry has previously said that she plans to continue speaking out for racial justice during the Tokyo Olympics, despite the International Olympic Committee's statement that it will reprimand athletes who engage in protests during the Games.
"Sports is entertainment, but my purpose and my voice and my mission is bigger than the sport," Berry said.
Contributing: Tom Schad, USA TODAY
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eaadams6.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gwen Berry to critics of protest: 'I never said I hated the country'