Team USA’s Gwen Berry Responds To Criticism Over National Anthem Protest At Olympic Trials

Hammer thrower Gwen Berry has qualified for the Tokyo Summer games, which start next month.

Gwen Berry (L), third place, turns away from U.S. flag during the U.S. National Anthem as DeAnna Price (C), first place, also stands on the podium after the Women's Hammer Throw final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. | Getty Images
Gwen Berry (L), third place, turns away from U.S. flag during the U.S. National Anthem as DeAnna Price (C), first place, also stands on the podium after the Women's Hammer Throw final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. | Getty Images

Gwen Berry, a hammer thrower for Team USA, responded to criticism after she turned away from the American flag during the national anthem on Saturday at the U.S. Olympic trials.

At the trials in Eugene, Oregon, Berry finished third in the hammer throw and qualified for the Tokyo Summer Olympics — her second Olympic games. 

During the medal ceremony, “The Star-Spangled Banner” played and Berry turned away from the American flag. At one point, Berry draped a shirt that said “Activist Athlete” over her head. Berry’s protest drew criticism from Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who called former NFL player Colin Kaepernick “spoiled” in 2016 for protesting the national anthem. 

Sen. Cruz tweeted a link to a story about Berry’s actions and wrote: “Why does the left hate America?” 

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) also criticized Berry’s choice. In an interview with Fox and Friends on Monday, Rep. Crenshaw said Berry should be removed from the team. 

“The entire point of the Olympic team is to represent the United States of America,” Rep. Crenshaw said.

Berry responded to people who denounced her protest in an interview with Black News Channel on Monday: “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. I never said that I hated the country. I never said that.”

Berry said she didn’t know that the national anthem, which she said doesn’t "speak for" Black Americans, was going to play when she and the other athletes were brought out to be introduced to the crowd. 

“We were not even supposed to be on the podium during the singing or the playing of the national anthem,” Berry said to Black News Channel. “We were going to be introduced to the crowd before the anthem was going to be played or after the anthem was going to be played … However, we went out to introduce ourselves to the crowd. Coincidentally, the national anthem was playing and they asked us to stand on the podium.”

The national anthem does not play during the medal ceremonies at the trials, according to the Associated Press. A USA Track and Field spokesperson told the Associated Press that the national anthem plays daily “according to a previously published schedule.” 

On Monday, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki whether President Joe Biden thought Berry’s protest was “appropriate behavior for someone who hopes to represent Team USA.”

Psaki said that she hadn’t spoken to the president about the controversy but said the president believes “part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we, as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals and it means respecting the right of people granted to them in the Constitution to peacefully protest.”

Several athletes have come to Berry’s defense.

In 2019, Berry raised her fist in protest on the podium during the Pan Am Games. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee put her on a 12-month probation as a result.

The International Olympic Committee said it will enforce Rule 50 at the upcoming games in Tokyo. The rule bans any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” at “Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

The women’s hammer throw event will start on August 1.