Olympian Gwen Berry Responds to Conservative Backlash Over Flag Protest as White House Weighs In

·3 min read

Patrick Smith/Getty Images From left: Dan Crenshaw and Gwen Berry

Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry found herself at the center of political debates this week, drawing both criticism and praise from lawmakers for turning away from the American flag during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

Berry, 32, won a bronze medal on Saturday at the U.S. track and field trials, securing her spot in the Tokyo Olympics next month.

But the two-time Olympian made another set of headlines for protesting, turning away from the flag and raising a T-shirt over her head that read "Activist Athlete" while the anthem played.

On Monday, Republican lawmakers bashed Berry over the protest.

"If Gwen Berry is so embarrassed by America, then there's no reason she needs to compete for our country at the Olympics," Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton told Fox News.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, of Texas, also told the network he believed Berry "should be removed from the team," causing the hammer thrower to respond on Twitter.

"At this point, y'all are obsessed with me," Berry wrote, sharing a video of Crenshaw, 37, criticizing her. She also retweeted a post from one of her supporters that said "Dan can kiss my a--."

At the White House, Berry found more support.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended athletes' right to peacefully protest after she was asked about the incident by Fox News reporter Peter Doocy.

"I haven't spoken to [President Joe Biden] specifically about this, but I know he's 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, 42, said.

"He would also say, of course, that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we, as a country, haven't lived up to our highest ideals, and it means respecting the right of people, granted to them in the Constitution, to peacefully protest," Psaki added.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images Gwen Berry

Athletes protesting social issues on the Olympic stage has a long history.

Olympic news website Inside the Games reported that the International Olympic Committee is considering relaxing bans on athlete protests at this year's Summer Olympics. The IOC's "Rule 50" currently calls for athletes to face sanctions for protesting at events.

Berry was placed on probation for one year after she was sanctioned for raising her fist during the anthem at the 2019 Pan-American Games, according to The Washington Post. Then last year, amid global protests against racial injustice and police brutality, the committee apologized to Berry for the penalty it doled out.

After her protest on Saturday — which Berry told ESPN was unplanned and "felt like a setup," because she wasn't expecting the anthem to be played while she turned away from the flag — she told the Post: "It's really important for me and my community just to be able to represent."

"I think sports is a distraction. Sports is entertainment," Berry said. "But my purpose and my voice and mission is bigger than the sport. So me being able to represent my communities and my people and those who have died at the hands of police brutality, those who have died to this systemic racism, I feel like that's the important part."

"That's why I'm going," Berry added. "And that's why I was here today."