Olympian Gwen Berry protested during the national anthem during the Olympic trials on Saturday when she turned away from the flag on the medal podium and held a t-shirt over her face.
On Monday, the White House took notice.
Press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Berry’s protest on Monday by a reporter, and while she said she hasn’t spoken with President Joe Biden about it specifically, Psaki defended the hammer thrower’s actions.
“I know [Biden is] incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem and all that it represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform all around the world,” Psaki said.
“He would also say, of course, that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we are, as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals. And it means respecting the rights of people granted to them in the Constitution to peacefully protest.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry “peaceful protest” who turned away from the American flag as the national anthem was playing— Mona Salama (@MonaSalama_) June 28, 2021
“It means respecting the rights of people granted to them in the Constitution to peacefully protest” pic.twitter.com/ztADFy83dt
Berry protested during anthem at Olympic trials
Berry finished third in the hammer throw at the trials on Saturday and qualified for her second Olympics. She took the podium for the medal ceremony as usual after.
The national anthem, however, isn’t played for every medal ceremony at the trials like it is the games. The song is instead played just once each day — which took place during Berry’s ceremony.
Berry, who has protested during the national anthem in the past, then turned away from the American flag and raised a t-shirt that read “Activist Athlete” over her face. She felt that she was set up.
“I feel like they did that on purpose, and I was pissed, to be honest,” she said. “I was thinking about what should I do. Eventually, I just stayed there and just swayed. I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful. I know they did that on purpose, but it’ll be all right. I see what’s up.”
She took to Twitter after, too.
Stop playing with me pic.twitter.com/WLN3clqOCM— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 27, 2021
Berry responds to critics
Naturally, her move drew plenty of harsh criticism despite protests during the national anthem having become commonplace across the sports landscape.
Berry shared messages and emails she received from critics on Twitter.
Warning: Messages that Berry shared on Twitter contain language that is NSFW.
Look at my supporters!! 😘 pic.twitter.com/AIytcCg4bF— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 27, 2021
The love keeps coming! pic.twitter.com/UIIjN0tvs1— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 27, 2021
She also responded to Republican critics, like Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) — who claimed that athletes who protest like Berry did should be removed from the team completely — and Fox News.
At this point, y’all are obsessed with me https://t.co/HBWCE28s7x— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 28, 2021
Berry, though, said all of the hate she has received is just proof that people are so focused on patriotism that they can’t focus on the root of why she and other athletes are protesting in the first place.
These comments really show that:— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 28, 2021
1.) people in American rally patriotism over basic morality
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
Thank you! I never said I hated this country! People try to put words in my mouth but they can’t. That’s why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE. ✊🏾 https://t.co/fbKB5d9H2I— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 28, 2021