As the Tokyo Olympics gear up, the world is getting an early look at the ongoing complicated relationship between some U.S. athletes and the national anthem. Gwen Berry, a hammer thrower, was on the podium in Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, when she turned away from the U.S. flag as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played on Saturday, June 26, ESPN reported. Now the right has seized on the moment to attack Berry as she says she feels like she was set up.
According to ESPN, the national anthem was being played once a night at the trials. Berry was on the podium to receive a bronze medal in the hammer throw when the anthem started up, and per ESPN, the track star turned away from the flag, toward the stands, before draping a black T-shirt reading “Activist Athlete” over her head.
Berry has said she feels like she was put in an uncomfortable position on purpose.
“I feel like it was a setup, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the anthem’s timing that night, according to ESPN. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
A spokesperson for USA Track and Field told the Associated Press the timing wasn’t intentional, saying, “The national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. today. 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.” According to the AP, the anthem was five minutes behind schedule on Saturday, when Berry was on the podium as it played.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Gwen Berry said, according to the AP. “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.”
Berry also posted a photo of her moment on the podium on Twitter, adding the caption, “Stop playing with me.”
Despite the blowback, she isn’t backing down from the “Activist Athlete” tag on her T-shirt.
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” Berry said, ESPN reported. “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.”