An unapologetic Gwen Berry says National Anthem is 'disrespectful' to Black Americans

Berry clarified in a recent interview that she's not anti-American and should be allowed to participate in the Olympics come July


                            An unapologetic Gwen Berry says National Anthem is 'disrespectful' to Black Americans
Gwendolyn Berry says she's not anti-American (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Two-time Olympian Gwen Berry sparked controversy during the US team trials for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after turning away from the American flag while the national anthem was playing. But Berry remains unapologetic as she took time to clarify in a recent interview that she's not anti-American and should still be allowed to participate in the Olympics come July. 

In the wake of her gesture, there's been rampant social media backlash from the general public and conservative US senators, who demanded Berry's campaign be defunded, and the athlete disqualified from this year's games. "I never said that I didn't want to go to the Olympic games, that's why I competed and got third and made the team," Berry told the Black News Channel on June 29. Funded by the left-leaning advocate group Color of Change, who also support the defund-the-police campaign, Berry told the host: "I never said that I hated the country. I never said that. All I said was I respect my people enough to not stand for or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people. Point blank, period."

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Gwendolyn Berry (L), third place, turns away from U.S. flag during the U.S. National Anthem as DeAnna Price (C), first place, and Brooke Andersen, second place, also stand on the podium after the Women's Hammer Throw final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. In 2019, the USOPC reprimanded Berry after her demonstration on the podium at the Lima Pan-American Games. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Her diss against the American flag and the anthem, however, still stands. In the interview scheduled on Berry's own 32nd birthday, she further explained: "If you know your history, you know the full song of the National Anthem, the third paragraph speaks to slaves in America, our blood being slain...all over the floor. It's disrespectful and it does not speak for Black Americans. It's obvious. There's no question."

Berry was referring to a disputed part of the national anthem that reads: "And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, that the havoc of war and the battle's confusion. A home and a country, should leave us no more? Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave."

Berry claims these lines refer to the capture and beating of runaway slaves. The debate surrounding these lines from the song sees one half of historians deem it a direct threat towards slaves, while another half argues it's about manipulating Black Americans to fight for the British in exchange for freedom.

Gwendolyn Berry of United States competes in Women's Hammer Throw Final on Day 15 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games on August 10, 2019 in Lima, Peru.

The chat happened after Berry turned away from the flag during her Olympic trials at Eugene, Oregon, on June 26 as the hammer thrower took the podium after coming third place. Berry first placed her hand on her hip, shuffling her feet, before she took a quarter turn to the right and tilted her head to the side, facing the stands. Towards the end of the song, she pulled up her black tee shirt that said the words 'Activist Athlete' and draped it atop her head. This wasn't Berry's first time protesting the national anthem on the stage. The athlete had drawn immense criticism back in the 2019 Pan American Games, where she won a gold medal and put up a fist in the air at the end of the national anthem.

Berry had been called anti-American and disrespectful towards the troops due to her gesture, and she was subsequently suspended for 12 months by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. At the time, Berry's father, an Iraq war vet, had defended her, saying: "For her to do that on the podium is more American than anything, if you ask me, because that's what our country is founded on: freedom of expression, freedom of speech.'

Gwendolyn Berry (L), third place, turns away from U.S. flag during the U.S. National Anthem as DeAnna Price (C), first place, also stands on the podium after the Women's Hammer Throw final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. In 2019, the USOPC reprimanded Berry after her demonstration on the podium at the Lima Pan-American Games. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Berry's ban was reversed by the USOPC in March this year, as the committee allowed athletes in the US teams to protest with raised clenched fists, and by kneeling down. But last Thursday's events were dubbed a 'set up' by Berry who took the stage as she came third and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, and the national started playing the moment she got on the podium.

Claiming the song's alignment with her appearance on stage was done on 'purpose' to rile her up, Berry told the outlet: "I was pissed, to be honest," about putting up a fist in the air once again, as the song ended. The US trials have allegedly been playing the national anthem every day per a printed schedule, but the day Berry took the stand, there was a five minute delay in its playing. 

Spokeswoman for the US Track & Field, Susan Hazzard, issued a statement explaining: "We didn't wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards. The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule." She added: "We're thrilled with the women's hammer throw team that selected themselves for the Games."

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