A hammer thrower who will represent the U.S. next month at the Olympics and who turned her back to the American flag during the playing of the national anthem this weekend says she feels “set up” by U.S. Track & Field.
Gwen Berry turned away from the flag Saturday while the anthem played as she received her third-place medal during the Olympic trials in Oregon. She later draped a T-shirt that read “activist athlete” over her head.
Berry admitted her actions were “disrespectful.” However, she told reporters that she was under the impression that officials would play the anthem before the athletes reached the podium.
The Associated Press reports that USA Track & Field (USATF) played the anthem once each evening throughout the Olympic trials.
“I was thinking about what should I do,” Berry added. “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 alright. I see what’s up.”
Berry further defended her actions and comments on social media posts over the weekend.
By finishing third at the Olympic trials, Berry qualified to throw for the U.S. team next month at the 2021 Games in Tokyo.
Berry, known for her social activism off the track, has been punished for anthem demonstrations in the past. In 2019, she received a letter of reprimand from the USOC and 12 months probation for raising a fist during the anthem at the Pan American Games.
Berry’s actions during the anthem have already prompted criticism from Republican lawmakers who have called for her removal from the U.S. Olympic team.
“We don’t need any more activist athletes. She should be removed from the team,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, during an appearance on Fox News Monday.
During a briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Berry’s protest.
“A 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 Constitution to peacefully protest,” Psaki said.
Athletes from around the world will be prohibited from protesting during the games this year after the International Olympic Committee earlier this year upheld Rule 50, which limits demonstrations “or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”