Over the weekend, Team USA’s Raven Saunders made headlines for reasons other than taking home a silver and her first Olympic medal of her career.
After finishing second in the shot put final with a throw of 19.79 meters on Sunday at the Tokyo Games, Saunders raised her hands and crossed them in an X as she and her fellow medal winners posed for photos on the podium during the award ceremony. The 25-year-old told the media the sign represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
Following a brisk “discussion” regarding whether Saunders had breached any rules banning protests on medal podium, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPCS) released a statement on Monday, August 2, stating that the South Carolina native “did not violate our rules related to demonstration.”
The International Olympic Committee — which is the body that would make the determination about whether the rule was broken — said Monday that it is investigating the matter. Saunders shared what appeared to be a playful statement defending her gesture, writing, “Let them try and take this medal,” she wrote. “I’m running across the border even though I cant swim 😂.”
During an appearance on the “Today” show, Saunders elaborated on the gesture. “For a lot of the athletes, we talked about what was going to be our stance and what do we stand for,” Saunders told Craig Melvin of the conversations that took place before the events. “And ‘X’ pretty much represents the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet. I’m a Black female, I’m queer, and I talk about mental health awareness. I deal with depression, anxiety, and PTSD a lot. So me personally, I represent being really at that intersection.”
She added, “I decided to use my platform to really speak up for all of those people, everyone that represents any part of or any one of those groups especially. And I’d like to say this medal is for you guys.”
Saunders’ protest came following Gwen Berry’s vow to continue to “represent the oppressed.” During the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 26, the hammer throw athlete made headlines after facing the stands, placing her hands on her hips, and then holding up a T-shirt featuring the phrase “athlete activist” as the national anthem was being played during the podium ceremony for her and her fellow top-three finishers. The backlash ensued almost immediately, with many conservatives commentators calling for her removal from the team entirely. Berry has qualified for the Aug. 3 hammer throw final in Tokyo.
After accepting her medal, Saunders told the media that, like other young athletes such as superstars Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, she too wants to be a role model for others like her.
“For me, just being who I always aspired to be, to be able to be me and not apologize for it (and) show the younger generation that no matter what they tell you, no matter how many boxes they try to fit you in, you can be you,” she explained. “People tell me not to do tattoos and piercings, but now look at me, I’m popping.”