Olympian Gwen Berry Pens Powerful Open Letter: "My Protest and Sacrifice Will Not Have Been For Nothing"

Jenny Sugar
USA's Gwen Berry prepartes to compete in the Women's Hammer Throw heats at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Khalifa International stadium in Doha on September 27, 2019. (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
USA's Gwen Berry prepartes to compete in the Women's Hammer Throw heats at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Khalifa International stadium in Doha on September 27, 2019. (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)

At the 2019 Pan American Games, Olympian Gwen Berry won a gold medal for the hammer throw. Atop the podium, at the end of the national anthem, she bowed her head and raised a fist as a demonstration against racial injustice and police brutality in America. Olympic Fencer Race Imboden, who also won a gold medal at the 2019 Pan Am Games, took a knee on the podium, and in response, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee put them both on a 12-month probation for breaking rules on political protests at a global championship, warning that there would be further punishment for future protests.

Berry's probation ends this summer, but the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed, and it's also during a time when there's incredible anger and protesting against racial injustice and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd. The CEO of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Sarah Hirshland tweeted, "The USOPC stands with those who demand equality and equal treatment. Here is my letter to Team USA athletes," and Berry's response on June 2 was, "I want an apology letter .. mailed .. just like you and the IOC MAILED ME WHEN YOU PUT ME ON PROBATION.. stop playing with me."

Hirshland tweeted this response:

In an interview with The Nation, Berry said she felt like the USOPC comments were hypocritical. She said, "It's really a smack in the face, because I've lost so much because of how they did not support me; of how they made it seem that I basically did something that was bad, even though it was peaceful." Berry continued, "I didn't cause any altercations. There was nothing that I did wrong. All I did was speak out about who I stand with, what I stand for, and how I felt." She added that her family has lost so much because of the probation, and now the USOPC speaking out in a way that contradicts how they treated her after the 2019 Pan Am Games. "It's just hypocrisy," Berry said.

At the time of her protest, Berry said she felt misunderstood, and that fellow athletes were scared to come out and stand with her since they had a lot to lose. But right now, she feels vindicated. "It helped me to go out there and support my people, and march with my people, and protest," she said. "We have to come up with ideas, we have to strategize, we have to plan, and we have to keep the momentum going."

On June 3, Berry shared that Hirshland called her directly to apologize. Berry told The Washington Post that she feels like the committee tried to de-escalate the situation as much as possible, but added, "the sentiment to me is not sincere only because when you are legally bound by money or other interests you need to protect, there is no way you can sincerely be for the athletes or for a movement that is brought on by systematic oppression."

Related: Olympian Tianna Bartoletta on the Jarring Reality of Being a Black Athlete on Team USA

On June 5, Berry posted the following open letter on Twitter in response to reporters asking her opinion on the relationship between sports, politics, protest, and the Olympics, and how Black athletes can advocate for civil rights.

Berry said sports and politics are inherently connected, and that the agreements athletes sign before competing, like the banning of protesting, are about minimizing controversy. "What I object to is any pretense that the athletes, and their rights, come first," Berry said.

"The issues we face are too important to be ignored."

Berry discussed how silently protesting on the podium in the 1968 Olympics destroyed the sporting careers of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, but now they are seen as heroes. "Yet the new Rule 50 for the Olympics ban any type of similar protest," Berry said. "The last few weeks have shown the issues of poverty and race are the same, if not worse, than they were in 1968, and the IOC's stance on athletes' rights is confusing at best and outright hypocritical at worst."

It's the athlete's decision whether or not they want to follow the rules in regards to protesting, and Berry added that it's unclear what a punishment for breaking the rules will look like. Ultimately, she's determined to make things better for the Black and brown communities in the US. "My protest and sacrifice will not have been for nothing," she said. "The issues we face are too important to be ignored."

More From

  • Kanye West Tweets That He's Running For President in 2020

    Is Kanye West heading down the campaign trail? On July 4th, the 43-year-old rapper tweeted that he is running for president in the upcoming 2020 election against Donald Trump - whom he has publicly supported in the past - and Joe Biden.

  • Thinking About Playing Tennis Amid COVID-19? Take USTA's Safety Tips Into Consideration

    We know from past experts we've interviewed that some evidence suggests that exercise can increase the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), specifically when it's exercise that is more aerobically intense and in groups. That being said, there are two factors that make workouts safer and reduce the risk of spreading the virus: being outdoors and being physically distanced from other people.

  • 40 Feel-Good Musicals You Can Watch on Disney+ Right Now

    I don't know about you, but nothing lifts my spirits like a good movie musical. There's just something about singing at the top of my lungs that brings me instant joy. Thankfully, Disney+ has me covered, with an abundance of titles on their streaming service. From award-winning musicals like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins to Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, there are so many options to choose from. There are even Disney Channel original movies like High School Musical and Camp Rock for that extra dose of nostalgia. Plus, Broadway's Hamilton is now streaming on Disney+. If you're looking for a feel-good movie to stream as you stay at home, keep scrolling for titles to add to your watchlist. Related: These 31 Musicals on Netflix Will Have You Singing and Dancing Along

  • Hamilton Is a Family-Friendly Musical, but There Are a Few Things to Know Before Watching

    If you couldn't nab Hamilton tickets during the original run of the show, don't waste your shot to stream it now. Lin-Manuel Miranda's masterpiece about the $10-dollar founding father has finally hit Disney+.