Not all protests are equal. They vary in legitimacy, intent, message, medium and validity. There are protests involving our Flag and/or National Anthem that I believe are carried out respectfully and appropriately. I take the general position that when a quiet, peaceful protester TELLS us his or her purpose is not disrespect, we should believe them until and unless proven otherwise. And I strongly feel that we often err when we evaluate the protests of others exclusively by what we think we would have or should have done in a similar circumstance. Loving our country and wanting to improve it can be expressed many ways.
And then there’s American hammer thrower Gwen Berry. I cannot and will not defend her, and I condemn and reject her actions unequivocally.
Berry won a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by placing third at the U.S. trials in Eugene, Oregon. Berry describes herself as an “activist athlete.” OK. She says the anthem has “never spoken” for her. Again, OK. But when the anthem was played while she and the gold and silver medalists were on the podium, Berry turned away from the flag disdainfully, slouched, put a hand on one hip and draped an “activist athlete” t-shirt over her head.
She later said she felt “set up.” The Anthem is played only once per evening at the Trials in Eugene, at a set time. On Saturday, that “set time” was just before the women’s hammer throw medals were presented.
Berry has a history, and in 2019 received a 12-month suspension from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee for a protest she conducted at Pan American Games in Peru.
Again, I believe that when people tell us their intent, our default position should be to believe them. But here was Berry’s intent, expressed in her own words. “It was real disrespectful” and that that was her intent. Berry says she was “pissed.”
I am now, too. Ms. Berry. Protests vary in legitimacy and presentation. Certainly on that second criterion at least, her protest failed. And in this case Americans who say they are offended by her actions have every right to be.
In my view.
For now, Berry is headed to Tokyo. She is no doubt aware that the Japanese Organizing Committee has made it clear that no political protests of any kind will be permitted at The Games. That’s not an “American” concept. But the Olympics are not being held in America. It’s somebody else’s party.
If Berry plans to violate the “no protest” rule,” she should do the honorable thing and withdraw, giving the U.S. the option to promote the fourth place finisher at the Trials to the Olympic team. It would be the right thing for the American team.
And she would at least salvage some integrity.