US Olympic Hammer Thrower Gwen Berry Explains Why She Turned Her Back during National Anthem

  Amanda Casanova | Contributor | Thursday, July 1, 2021
Gwen Berry, Berry explains why she turned her back during the national anthem

Hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who turned away from the U.S. flag during the playing of the national anthem at the U.S. Olympic Trials over the weekend, said the anthem "does not speak for black Americans."

"If you know the full song of the national anthem, the dark paragraphs speaks to slaves in America, our blood being slain and" shed on the ground, she explained in an interview with Black News Channel.

"It does not speak for black Americans. It's obvious. There's no question," she said. "I respect my people enough to not stand or acknowledge something that disrespects my people. I love my people. Point blank. Period."

According to The Christian Post, Berry was referring to the third verse of the full version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which reads, "Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."

On Saturday, Berry earned her spot on the Olympic team by placing third at the trials. When she stood on the podium after receiving her meal, she turned away from the flag to face the stands.

Toward the end, Berry raised a black T-shirt with the words "Activist Athlete" on the front.

Berry's actions have been met with mixed reactions.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton is asking for Berry to be removed from the U.S. Team.

"I don't think it's too much when athletes are competing to wear the Stars and Stripes — to compete under the Stars and Stripes in the Olympics — for them to simply honor that flag and our anthem on the medal stand," Cotton said in a Fox News interview. "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."

However, Pam Keith, a Democratic politician and attorney, tweeted that she supported Berry.

"Don't worry (Berry)," she tweeted. "WE'VE GOT YOU! You're good. And Congrats on being an Olympian!"

One of her sponsors, the group Color of Change, also took to Twitter to show their support.

"We're proud to sponsor [Berry], to have negotiated a sponsorship with PUMA and to continue to push corporations to support Black athletes who speak out for our communities. Grateful for Gwen's leadership today and every day," the activist group wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said athletes competing in the trials are allowed to protest during the national anthem.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Patrick Smith/Staff

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.