Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry made headlines on Saturday (June 26) after turning away from the American flag while the “The Star-Spangled Banner” was being played at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials. The Missouri-born athlete and activist won third place at the trials, earning her a spot on the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics, which will kick off next month.
Berry has been outspoken in the past about police brutality and racial injustice. However, she claimed to CNN that she was “set up” during Saturday’s medal ceremony when organizers played “The Star-Spangled Banner” while she was standing on the podium.
“I feel like it was set up. I feel like they did that on purpose and I was pissed, to be honest,” she told the outlet.
After turning away, Berry raised a black t-shirt that read “Activist athlete” and placed it over her head.
“I was thinking about what should I do. Eventually, I just stayed there and just swayed. I put my shirt over my head,” she said. “It was real disrespectful. I know they did that on purpose, but it’ll be alright. I see what’s up.”
CNN notes that USA Track and Field did not respond to their request for a comment about the timing of the song. Reuters reports that the national anthem was played each day at the trials according to a pre-arranged schedule.
“We didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards,” USATF spokeswoman Susan Hazzard told CNN. “We’re thrilled with the women’s hammer throw team that selected themselves for the Games.”
However, Berry told ESPN that organizers “said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there.”
“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,” she added.
Berry faced backlash for turning away from the flag from some critics, including Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw. On Twitter, she reacted to the criticism and defended her actions.
“These comments really show that: 1.) people in American rally patriotism over basic morality. 2.) Even after the murder of George Floyd and so many others; the commercials, statements and phony sentiments regarding black lives were just a hoax,” she wrote.
Berry added on Instagram, “I said what I said… I meant what I said… STOP PLAYING WITH ME!! PERIOD!”
In 2019, the 31-year-old lost some sponsorship deals and was put on a one-year probation after raising her first while on the podium at the Pan American Games in Peru.
“For me, it was extremely devastating because they cut off all my revenue,” Berry told CNN at the time. “Competing, going overseas, going to competitions, getting prize money and then ultimately making the Olympic team help me, help my family, help my community.”
The International Olympic Committee previously said they will uphold a ban on “protests and demonstrations” at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. See Berry’s social media posts below.