Hammer thrower Gwen Berry has come under fire after she turned her back to the American flag while the National Anthem was playing at the Olympic trials in Oregon.
Over the weekend, "The Star-Spangled Banner" started to play while she and her white competitors, DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen, were on the podium. While Price and Anderson turned towards the flag and placed their right hand over their hearts, Berry — who placed third and earned herself a spot on the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics — turned to face the stands.
The 31-year-old, a vocal BLM activist, put her hands on her hips and then held up a black t-shirt with the words "athlete activist." In later interviews, Berry accused the trial organizers of setting her up, claiming they told her the anthem would be played before she took to the podium, not while she was there.
"The anthem doesn't speak for me. It never has. I didn't really want to be up there," Berry said, adding that she felt she was being disrespected by the officials. "Like I said, it was a setup. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade." Meanwhile, the trial organizers refuted her claim, noting that the anthem is played everyday at the same time.
Following her controversial stunt, conservatives were quick to take to social media, calling her protest disrespectful and insisting she hated her country.
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tweeted: "What is wrong with people? 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."
In response, Berry — who reportedly secured her second Olympics bid with a throw of over 241 inches — retweeted a meme which portrayed Walker as a Klu Klux Klan member, Daily Mail reported. She also directly addressed Fox News on social media after they tweeted: "An American athlete's reaction to the national anthem at the Olympic trials will leave you dumbfounded," referring to Berry's behavior.
"F*** you @FoxNews," the athlete fired back.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz also took to Twitter to question Berry's response to the anthem. "Why does the Left hate America?" he asked. Cruz acknowledged that the country has its flaws, but said: "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."
Vic DeGrammont, a Republican congressional candidate in Florida, also insisted via Twitter that Berry shouldn’t be allowed to compete if she "can't respect the flag." In addition, journalist David Steinberg suggested that another athlete be sent to Tokyo in her place.
"Send the fourth-place finisher," he demanded. "Gwen Berry has a world of options if she doesn't want to compete under our flag." Steinberg concluded, "Not a penny of taxpayer money should fund her campaign to make Americans hate each other."
Opinion writer Josh Jordan mocked Berry's claim that she was "set up" by the trial officials, sarcastically writing: "Yes, the US Olympics committee spent their time meticulously planning to make sure that the national anthem was played at the exact moment she was on the podium… because everyone knows the Olympics is all about (checks tweet) Gwen Berry."
Wrestler Tyrus Murdoch emphasized that he has no issue with an athlete "taking a respectful knee during the flag," however, he questioned why Berry would compete in the Olympics if she had such resentment towards her country. "Why are you even competing in the Olympics if you hate the flag and the country so much?" he asked Berry while appearing on Fox News. "If it's such a horrible place, why are you doing it?"
Berry hit back at those criticizing her choice on social media. She insisted that "these comments really show that: 1.) people in American (sic) rally patriotism over basic morality," via Twitter. According to Berry, there has been no change in society following the BLM movement.
"2.) Even after the murder of George Floyd and so many others; the commercials, statements, and phony sentiments regarding black lives were just a hoax," she continued before shutting down claims of her hating the U.S. "I never said I hate this country! People try to put words in my mouth but they can't," she wrote. "That's why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE."
She also took to Instagram to share photos of herself on the podium while reiterating her stance: "I said what I said... I meant what I said.. STOP PLAYING WITH ME!! PERIOD!" she demanded, adding: "#activistAthlete."
This wasn't the first time Berry turned heads when she took a political stance during an event. Berry previously faced a 12-month suspension by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) after she raised her fist at the 2019 Pan American Games.
The USOPC previously prohibited political protests; however, they changed the rules this year to allow protest at domestic events. The committee also publicly and privately apologized to Berry last summer for placing her on one-year probation.