Hammer thrower for Team USA Gwen Berry has responded to backlash after allegedly turning her back on the flag during the national anthem at Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
In an interview on Monday with Black Channel News (BCN), Berry defended her actions saying she didn’t know the song was going to play when she and other players were brought to the field, Now This News reported.
“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.
During the incident, Berry held up a t-shirt that read “Activist Athlete.” She said she was using the moment to take a stance for athletes who’ve been pushed out and silenced for speaking against racial injustice. She added it was by coincidence that the song was played right as she and the athletes stepped on the podium.
“We were not even supposed to be on the podium during the singing or the playing of the national anthem,” Berry said in the interview. “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.”
Although she also said the “Star Spangled Banner” does not represent Black Americans for its very evident racist language and history, Berry said she would have chosen to do things differently had she had the opportunity, Forbes reported.
“If I knew I was going to be on the podium, I would have chose something else,” she said, responding to the criticism.
Afterwards, Berry expressed her frustrations with the timing of the anthem, telling the Associated Press she felt “like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Blavity previously reported.
But inevitably, criticism from right-winged GOP lawmakers mounted. They’ve called for her to lose her Olympic spot.
On Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) responded to her actions by tweeting a story by The Atlantic, writing “Why does the left hate America?”
Why does the Left hate America?
Sure, we have our faults, but no nation in the history of the world has liberated more people from captivity, has lifted more out of poverty, has bled more for freedom, or has blessed more w/ abundance.
God bless America. https://t.co/7hH1FMzEn0
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 28, 2021
Republicans Sen. Tim Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw were among others who shared similar sentiments.
“If Ms. Berry is so embarrassed by America, then there’s no reason she needs to compete for our country. She should be removed from the Olympic team,” Cotton said on Fox News, according to The Daily Wire.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki swooped into Berry’s defense on Monday at a press briefing saying that the president would acknowledge anyone’s constitutional right to peacefully protest, as Blavity previously reported.
But this isn’t the first time Berry made a call for racial justice and equality on a national stage. In 2019, she raised a fist at the Pan American Games where she was later fined thousands of dollars.
On Saturday, Berry finished third in the women’s hammer throwing trial which qualified her for her second Olympic games. She holds the record for the 2017 weight thrower set.