What is Color of Change? Gwen Berry sponsored by 'defund the police' activist group
Two-time Olympian Gwen Berry has sparked controversy for the second time in her illustrious career as a hammer thrower, after turning her back at the American flag while the national anthem played. Berry came in third place at the US Track and Field Trials for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics being held in Eugene, Oregon, last week. But since her US flag shade, several politicians and social media have slammed her for being "anti-American".
In the wake of the controversy, it has also been revealed that the group that sponsors Berry also campaigns to defund the police. Berry is sponsored by an activist group called Colour of Change, who voiced their support for the 32-year-old athlete after she defended her actions in an interview with the Black News Channel. An unapologetic Berry clarified in the interview that she's not anti-American. But she also reiterated her stance on the national anthem, 'The Star-Spangled Banner', accusing its long-disputed lyrics of being 'racist'.
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Shortly after her interview surfaced online, the Oakland-based group Colour of Change announced their endorsement of Berry, tweeting: "We're proud to sponsor @MzBerryThrows, to have negotiated a sponsorship with @PUMA and to continue to push corporations to support Black athletes who speak out for our communities. Grateful for Gwen's leadership today and every day." Berry replied to that, tweeting back: "Thank you Color of Change for always standing with me."
Formed in 2005, just after the attack of Hurricane Katrina, Colour of Change intends to "use online resources to strengthen the political voice of African Americans," according to their website. It also states, "Today we're asking corporate sponsors to stand with Gwen Berry, the Pan-American gold medalist who was abandoned by sponsors and lost 80% of her income after she raised her fist on the awards podium. And we'll keep fighting for Black athletes' right to raise their voices without sacrificing their careers."
Thank you Color of Change for always standing with me ✊🏾 https://t.co/cVdADvtJ4O— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) June 29, 2021
The group has also spoken in favor of defunding the police - a call that rose in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, calling for defunding law enforcement authorities as retribution for unfair police brutality against people of color. "Policing is a violent institution that must end," Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said in June. "We imagine a country where there is enough money to educate our children, care for our sick and feed those who are financially unstable," he added, continuing: "Defunding the police allows for this vision." The group with leftist ideals also has ongoing active petitions in favor of defunding police at national and local levels.
In her birthday interview with Black News Channel, Berry also accused officials of trying to 'set her up' by playing the national anthem right when she got on the podium for her medal. Berry, who first turned a quarter to the right to face away from the flag on Thursday, then put her hand on her hips, swayed her foot, before pulling off her 'Activist Athlete' tee shirt and putting it on her head. Berry claimed she did so because it was hot and she didn't want to be up there anymore to take pictures, having just competed in the tournament. She also alleged that she was told the anthem would be played at another time, but was purposefully played as soon as she got on the podium. The trial organizers however maintain the anthem was played at the time fixed according to a printed schedule for the trials.
This is not the first time Berry has drawn flak over protesting at sporting events. In 2019, Berry was banned by the USOPC after she raised her fist up in the air as the national anthem played at the culmination of the day's events at the Pan American Games. Following this, she was dubbed anti-American and disrespectful towards the troops due to her gesture. Berry was also subsequently suspended for 12 months by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, who overturned the ban in March this year, as the committee allowed athletes in the US teams to protest with raised clenched fists, and by kneeling down.