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An Olympian turned her back on the flag. Should she be allowed to compete in Tokyo?

Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw says Gwen Berry should be removed from the team. She says she represents those ‘who died due to systemic racism’

Gwendolyn Berry, left, looks away as others stand for the national anthem at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
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 Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. Price won, Andersen was second and Berry finished third. Berry has been criticized for her actions.
Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

Gwen Berry earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team Saturday, but Texas GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw says she shouldn’t be allowed to go to Tokyo because of what she did at the qualifying competition.

At the June 26 track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon, Berry placed third in her event but turned her back to the U.S. flag and placed a T-shirt that read “Activist Athlete” over her head during the playing of the national anthem, while the other winners stood facing the flag with their hands on their heart.

On the “Fox & Friends” TV show Monday, Crenshaw decried Berry’s behavior, saying “We don’t need anymore activist athletes.”

“She should be removed from the team. The entire point of the Olympic team is to represent the United States of America. It’s the entire point. It’s one thing when these NBA players do it, OK, fine, we’ll just stop watching. But now the Olympic team?” Crenshaw said. “That should be the bare-minimum requirement is that you should believe in the county you’re representing.”

This isn’t the first time that Berry, the mother of a teenage son, has made headlines related to the national anthem. And it might not be the last.

In 2019, after winning a gold medal in the hammer throw at the Pan American Games, she raised a clenched fist in the air during an instrumental version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The gesture is associated with Black political power. Berry also represented the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics, but did not win a medal.

Berry said last year in a video op-ed for The New York Times that the anthem does not speak for people like her. “The ‘freedom, liberty and justice for all’ — it is not for Black people.”

After the Pan American Games, Berry received a letter from the U.S. Olympic Committee reprimanding her and reminding her of the rule that prohibits “any sort of demonstration in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Acknowledging that raising a fist or taking a knee is not allowed, she went on to call the rule ridiculous, saying, “There’s no such thing as just sticking to sports. Every Olympic athlete has fought for something or believes in something.” She noted that during the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico, two Black American athletes raised their fists during the awards ceremony. (They were suspended from the team.)

Berry previously said that her father, an Iraq War veteran, told her that protesting is the epitome of what it means to be an American. He told ESPN in 2019, “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.”

In the New York Times video, Berry called for Rule 50, the Olympic prohibition against demonstrations, to be revoked. “I’m ready for Tokyo ’21 and my next podium, and when I get there, I want to be able to raise my fist without being punished.”

She may get her wish. The U.S. Olympic Committee informed athletes last December that athletes who peacefully protest or demonstrate at the Tokyo Olympics will not be punished, according to USA Today.

ESPN reported that the anthem was played once a day during the trials, and the timing was not related to the athletes taking the stand for the awards ceremony, a USA Track & Field spokeswoman said.

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

She said on Twitter that people who believe differently are choosing patriotism over morality, and replied to Crenshaw’s remarks on Fox News, “At this point, y’all are obsessed with me.”

If Berry goes to Tokyo and wins, look for her to make news of a political nature again. According to the Baltimore Sun, she said, “My purpose and my mission is 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. That’s why I’m here today.”

For the record, the sport in which Berry is an Olympian doesn’t actually involve throwing a hammer, but an 8.8 pound ball attached to a chain. The hammer throw is one of four throwing events in the Olympics; the others are javelin, discus and shot put. The name dates from the Middle Ages when athletes threw actual sledgehammers, according to Hammerthrow.org.

The Summer Olympics start July 23.