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‘STOP PLAYING WITH ME! PERIOD!’: Olympian Gwen Berry Turns Away from Flag After Qualifying for Summer Games, White Critics Berate Her for Showing a Lack of Patriotism

Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry will not be moved from stirring up good trouble in the name of activism.

The Olympian has a record of speaking out against racial and social injustice in America. Her appearance during last week’s Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, was no different. Berry placed third and earned a ticket to next month’s Summer Games in Tokyo but also caused a stir when she turned her back on the American flag while standing on the podium during the medal ceremony.

Olympian Gwen Berry says the national anthem has never represented her after facing backlash for recent protest of the Star Spangled Banner. (Photo: @mzberrythrows/Instagram)

As the national anthem plays, Berry is photographed with her left hand on her hip, instead of over heart, looking down at the ground, holding up a black T-shirt that read “Athlete Activism,” before turning away from the flag and placing the shirt over her head.

Her protest was quiet but powerful enough to strike a chord with critics. Berry’s Instagram post states, “I said what I said…I meant what I said..STOP PLAYING WITH ME!! PERIOD!!” was flooded with criticism.

“Go represent a country you believe in then … Don’t put team USA on your chest if you aren’t going to stand up there proudly …”

“If you do not respect our country and our flag you are free to find another country”

“I hope they kick you off the team, you are a poor representation of America 🇺🇸“

Berry claims the entire anthem situation was anything but coincidental.

“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose. I was pissed to be honest,” Berry told The Associated Press. “They [USA Track and Field  committee] said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there…The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has,” she further explained.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” does not play during medal ceremonies, but the hammer throwing event ending just before the evening trial sessions may have been a factor in timing.

A USA Track and Field spokeswoman told ESPN: “We didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer thrower awards. The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule.” That established time is 5:20 p.m., however, on Saturday the music played five minutes later. 

In 2019, Berry was placed on a year-long probation after raising her fist while on the podium during the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. The stunt cost her several sponsors, but did little to muzzle her when addressing social injustices.

Last year in response to social unrest, the International Olympic Committee forbade athletes from protesting, in any fashion, during the upcoming Summer Games.

Given Berry’s record, a ban on protest may very well be nothing more than a suggestion. “I just want everyone to understand that, as athletes, we can use our voice, we should use our voices to bring awareness to these issues that impact our communities,” Berry said. “Because our communities are the communities that are under attack.”

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