Hammer thrower and activist Gwen Berry has received fierce backlash after she appeared to turn her back to the American flag as the national anthem was being played at the U.S. Olympic Trials over the weekend.
Berry, who famously protested during the anthem in the, caught attention for turning her body toward the stands and away from the flag as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was playing at the trials in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday. Toward the end of the song, she put a black T-shirt with the words “Activist Athlete” on her head. Her competitors DeAnna Price, who won first place, and Brooke Andersen, second place winner, put their hands over their hearts and faced the flag.
Following her protest of the anthem, she drew ire from some conservative voices. Texas congressman Dan Crenshaw said Monday that Berry should be removed from the team. While sharing an article of the incident, Senator Ted Cruz tweeted, “Why does the Left hate America?” Former Republican presidential candidate and ex-Wisconsin governor Scott Walker also blasted Berry on Twitter.
“What is wrong with people?” he wrote. “Growing up, everyone stood for the American flag. Didn’t matter your politics, race, sex, income, religion; everyone stood for the flag. It was one of those civic rituals that brought us together. It still should today.”
Berry responded to the criticism on social media, saying people’s comments shows they “rally patriotism over basic morality” and “the commercials, statements, and phony sentiments regarding black lives were just a hoax.”
“I never said I hated this country!” she said in another tweet. “People try to put words in my mouth but they can’t. That’s why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE.”
On Saturday, Berry said she felt the playing of the anthem after her award ceremony “felt like it was a set-up.”
“They did it on purpose,” Berry told the Associated Press. “I was pissed, to be honest.” She added that she found it no coincidence that she was in plain view during the anthem.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry said. “But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important. The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said in a statement that the anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. Saturday.
“We didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards. The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule,” she said.
Berry, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, said she will continue to advocate for racial justice in the U.S.
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” Berry said Saturday. “I’m here to represent those … who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.”
Berry is no stranger to raising awareness to racial injustice. She and fencer Race Imboden wereon the medal stand during the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima. They received a 12-month probation that was later overturned.