Search icon


28th Jun 2021

Activist athlete Gwen Berry turns back on US flag during national anthem

Danny Jones

Gwen Berry turns back during the national anthem

“The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has”

Gwen Berry, a Black hammer thrower and activist athlete, turned her back on the American flag during the national anthem at the US track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon this past weekend.

Standing on the podium alongside peers DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen on Saturday, Berry said, “I was pissed, to be honest,” stating that the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ should have been played as the athletes walked out rather than just as they arrived upon the podium.

She went on to tell AP that she felt she was “set-up, and they did it on purpose,” before concluding: “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.”

USA Track and Field have denied the suggestions, stating simply that the anthem was simply scheduled to play at a certain time.

As well as turning her back on the anthem and flag, the 31-year-old – who is known for being an outspoken anti-racism advocate – also draped a t-shirt over her head that read “Activist Athlete” shortly after being awarded a bronze medal.

Unsurprisingly, Berry received equal amounts of love and hate from both sides, with many applauding her for making a statement in her own way, while some accused her of being unpatriotic ‘making it about her’. The replies underneath the post as just as you’d imagine.

What is clear is that are the parallels with taking the knee a la Colin Kaepernick and, now, millions of other athletes around the world, as well as raising a fist or taking a stand – that latter of which has long been a symbol of anti-racism and standing up against Black oppression. Berry has, of course, always made her stance very clear.

Of course, the raised fist has been a symbol of the fight against racism for decades, synonymous with the Black Power and Black Panther movements that started in the mid to late 1960s.

The gesture was actually popularised by two former Olympic athletes themselves, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. The history behind it is long and complicated but it stems from one simple thing: racial equality – a message that all of us need to be behind.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos

Speaking to CBS Sports, Berry emphasised the bigger picture to reporters:

“My purpose and mission “bigger than sports. I’m here to represent those… who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going [to Tokyo 2020]. That’s why I’m here today. What I need to do is speak for my community, to represent my community and to help my community. Because that’s more important than sports”

Berry may have qualified for the Olympics but, as she says, there are much bigger fish to fry than the competition.