Olympic Track and Field Athlete Gwen Berry Doubles Down on Flag Protest Stance Amid Controversy

by Suzanne Halliburton

Olympian Gwen Berry turned her back as the national anthem was played. Then she placed a shirt over her head. Her protest became a national viral moment that even found its was into a presidential briefing.

Berry did this, June 26 at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. Berry’s specialty is throwing the hammer. She finished third in the event. Her bronze medal qualified her for the Olympics in Tokyo, with the track and field events, July 30.

But as Berry and the other two medal winners stood on the podium to accept their awards, the national anthem played in the stadium. The anthem was scheduled for once a day. And Berry said she was set up. She’d served a year-long probation for a podium protest in 2019. That’s when she raised her first at the end of the anthem during the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Berry’s actions started a firestorm. Presidential Press Secretary Jen Psaki even was asked about Berry. But Berry didn’t back down from what she did. In an interview with the Black News Channel, Gwen Berry said:

‘I never said that I didn’t want to go to the Olympic games, that’s why I competed and got third and made the team.”

She continued: “I never said that I hated the country. I never said that. All I said was I respect my people enough to not stand for or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people. Point blank, period.’    

Gwen Berry Also Protested at 2019 Pan Am Games

Berry turned 32 this week. She first protested the anthem in 2019. And she’s very specific about what bothers her. It’s the third line or verse of the anthem. She says it’s about slavery.

Her first protest came in Lima, Peru when Gwen Berry raised her fist at the end of the Star Spangled Banner. She was on the podium to celebrate her gold medal at the Pan American Games. The U.S. Olympic committee placed her on a year’s probation. But earlier this year, the committee reversed its decision and will allow athletes to kneel or raise a fist in individual protest.

Gwen Berry never served in the military. However, her father did. And Michael Berry stood up for his daughter. He said “For her to do that on the podium is more American than anything, if you ask me, because that’s what our country is founded on: freedom of expression, freedom of speech.’ 

This may be the only week that the spotlight finds Gwen Berry. The Olympics added the women’s hammer throw for the Sydney Games in 2000. No American woman ever has finished in the top three. However, DeAnna Price won the 2019 World Championship in the event, so American odds may be changing. Berry finished 14th at the 2016 Olympics and her best placements have been in indoor competitions.