Olympian Athlete Turns Away From Flag as Anthem Played, Claims Song’s Timing ‘Was a Setup’

A U.S. Olympic track and field trials athlete protested the playing of the National Anthem on June 26 in Oregon by turning away from the American flag and placing a black T-shirt over her head.

Gwendolyn Berry, who received a bronze medal in the hammer throw that day, took a quarter turn away from the flag and faced the audience on the podium as athletes received their medals.

Berry, a 31-year-old black American and outspoken activist against “systemic racism” in the United States, turned to face the stands instead of the country’s flag as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, while the gold and silver medalists placed their right hands on their chests and stood facing the flag.

Toward the end of the song, Berry picked up her black T-shirt with the words “Activist Athlete” emblazoned on the front and draped it over her head.

She reportedly complained about the timing of the National Anthem, which was set to play at 5:25 p.m., but instead was played five minutes earlier. The athlete claimed that the organizers did it “on purpose” to her, and that “it was a setup.”

NTD Photo
Gwendolyn Berry, left, looks away as DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen stand for the national anthem after the finals of the women’s hammer throw at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on June 26, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)
NTD Photo
Gwendolyn Berry, left, drapes her Activist Athlete T-Shirt over her head as DeAnna Price stands for the national anthem after the finals of the women’s hammer throw at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on June 26, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)

“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the timing of the anthem. “I was pissed, to be honest.”

“I was thinking about what should I do. 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 all right. I see what’s up,” she said.

According to USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard, the national anthem was set to start playing at 5:20 p.m. on Saturday and organizers didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards, adding that the song was played every day according to a previously published schedule.

“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry said. “But 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.”

Berry took the event to social media, writing along with a picture of her turned away as athletes faced the flag during the anthem that people should “stop playing with” her.

Saturday’s protest wasn’t the first time Berry used her position in the U.S. Olympics as a vehicle for her activism.

In 2019, she received 12-month probation after raising her fist while standing on the podium at the Pan American Games, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee wrote in a statement at the time.

The winner of Saturday’s hammer throw competition was DeAnna Price, who won gold after a throw of 263 feet, 6 inches. The second-place finisher was Brooke Andersen, who also won the silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games.

Berry is qualifying for the Olympic Games in Tokyo scheduled for later this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.