Given her history of protesting at major track and field events, US athlete Gwen Berry says she is still considering how she might commemorate a podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics.
After qualifying for her second Games last month, hammer thrower Berry turned away from the flag during the medal ceremony while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played and draped a T-shirt with the words “activist athlete” over her head.
Berry later claimed that she was “set up” on the podium after learning that the national anthem would be performed first.
Her actions drew praise and criticism, particularly in the run-up to Tokyo 2020, where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has upheld the Rule 50 ban on athletes protesting or demonstrating.
Berry told CNN’s Don Lemon that she would follow the Rule 50 ban if asked “It all depends on how I’m feeling at the time. It depends on what I want to do in that moment, and what I want to do for my people in that moment.”
“And I will do whatever comes upon me and whatever is in my heart,” she added.
Athletes were allowed to participate in “respectful demonstrations on the topic of racial and social justice” at the trials, according to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Berry lost some of her sponsorships in 2019 after protesting on the podium at the Pan American Games in Peru by raising her fist.
The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee put her on probation for a year for the act, which she claims was meant to highlight social injustice in the United States.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Dan Crenshaw both chastised Berry for her actions, with the latter calling for the 32-year-old to be kicked off the Olympic team.
Berry said she chose to demonstrate during the trials last month because she “will not stand for any type of symbol or song that does not represent all people in America.”
“It’s the first verse, it’s the third verse, it’s all of these words,” she specified. “Freedom, justice. It mentions slaves. These are things that do not hold true for all Americans.”
The “Star Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, was inspired by the American victory at the Battle of Fort McHenry. Some interpret Key’s use of the word “slave” in the third verse as him taking pleasure in the deaths of freed enslaved people fighting alongside the British against the United States.
The playing of the national anthem at US sporting events dates back to 1918, but other Black athletes, most notably NFL star Colin Kaepernick, have suffered as a result of their decision to use that time to protest social injustice.
Berry stated that taking a stand against social inequality is more important to her than the potential impact on her career.
“I’ve already been through all of that […] and yet I am still here, still saying that my Black communities need help.”