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Olympic Hammer Thrower Gwen Berry Used the Podium To Protest & White Conservatives Are Melting Down

Gwen Berry smiles holding a bouquet of flowers and flashes a peace sign, wearing a bronze medal around her neck and a shirt tied around her waist reading "activist athlete"

Over the weekend, Gwen Berry earned the bronze medal for hammer-throwing in the Olympic trials. As she and her fellow athletes DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson stood on their podiums after receiving their medals, the national anthem began to play and Berry turned away from the flag. And oh wow, are a lot of conservatives melting down.

This isn’t the first time Berry has used the podium to make a statement. In 2019, she won the gold at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru. Standing on that podium, she raised her fist in the air and she was punished for it. The International Olympic Committee–which, at least at the time, appeared to be a group made up entirely of white people–forbids religious, political, or racial protests or statements.

“The idea of white people telling Black people exactly what they can and cannot say or do is exactly why I protested,” Berry said in a video op-ed for the New York Times last year. She encouraged the IOC to change that rule, saying they were “on the wrong side of history.”

But so far, they have not changed the rule, and Berry says the timing of this weekend’s events was suspicious. During the trials, the national anthem typically played before each evening session. But on that night, when it had to have been presumed that Berry would be on the podium, it played after.

“I feel like it was a setup,” Berry said, according to the NYT. “I felt like they did that on purpose.”


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A post shared by Gwen Berry (@mzberrythrows_)

As expected, conservatives are outraged, telling Berry that if she “hates America,” she shouldn’t be able to participate in the Olympics. Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw managed to tie her protest to “critical race theory,” the term conservatives have co-opted for a scaremongering attack on anti-racism. He called for Berry to be removed from the Olympic team, telling Fox News, “We don’t need any more activist athletes”–a strange statement because we know how many “activist athletes” Crenshaw thinks is enough and it’s exactly zero.

The idea that Black athletes perform silent, nonviolent acts of protest because they “hate America” is so insulting and just willful ignorance at this point, when those athletes have spent years repeatedly and clearly stated what it is they’re protesting.

In that NYT video about her 2019 protest, Berry put it so simply: “In that moment, when the national anthem was playing, I knew that that national anthem did not speak for people like me in America. The freedom, liberty, and justice for all–it is not for Black people.”

How is that so hard to understand? And how are so many people so committed to the idea that the solution here is not to actually do anything to change that experience, but to keep Black athletes from talking about it?

(image: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.