Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry turned away from the United States flag while the national anthem played as she stood on the podium to receive her medal in the Olympic track and field trials. Berry placed third during the trials in Eugene, Oregon and will represent the U.S. Tokyo next month for the Olympics.
Berry says she thought the song was going to play before athletes took the podium and “was pissed.” “They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” said Berry. “I felt like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose. I was pissed, to be honest” she said.
As the song played, Berry turned and faced the stands, and draped a black T-shirt that read “Activist Athlete” over her head. The Associated Press reported Berry stated “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.”
Reuters reported that the 31-year-old athlete Berry claims there were many opportunities to play the anthem before they stood on the podiums. “They had enough opportunities to play the national anthem before we got up there…I was thinking about what I should do. Eventually, I stayed there and I swayed, I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful.”
Berry added of her behavior, “it really wasn’t a message. I didn’t really want to be up there. Like I said, it was a setup. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade.” USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard released a statement saying the national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. on 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,” said Hazzard.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Berry Monday saying although she didn’t speak to the President specifically about Berry, he has “great respect for the anthem and all it represents.” She also said the president respects those who peacefully protest the anthem, as it’s a right granted in the Constitution. He recognizes “that there are moments where we are – as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals.”