EUGENE, Ore. (NewsNation Now) — Olympic athlete Gwen Berry explained she turned her back to the U.S. flag during the national anthem because the song “does not speak for me and never has.”
The moment happened during the medal ceremony Saturday after she won a third spot on team USA for her hammer throw.
She then placed a black T-shirt reading “activist athlete” over her head after turning her back.
Berry described the moment as unplanned.
“It’s just like in the moment type of thing. It was funny because they said that they were going to play it before we actually walked out. And then it just so happened that they played it when we were out there…I really don’t want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important. The anthem does not speak for me and never has,” Berry said at a press conference afterwards.
Thursday, she raised her fist on the podium while also calling for systemic changes.
“There are a lot of things going on that are bigger than sport. As athletes we can and should use our voices to bring awareness to issues that affect our communities,” Berry added.
She was suspended for 12 months by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee in 2019 for raising her fist at the Pan American games in Lima.
Rule 50 states that in addition to prohibiting commercial installations and advertising signs “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
The International Olympic Committee will also punish athletes who take a knee during the Tokyo Olympics, lift a fist in support of racial equality or wear clothing bearing phrases like Black Lives Matter.
In March though, the committee said that athletes competing in the U.S. Olympic trials can protest, including kneeling or raising a clenched fist on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem.
“It’s our sacrifices, podium. It’s our moment. So we should be able to protest whenever we want. It’s not for them to decide,” Berry stated.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the White House supports the right to protest as well as respect for American symbols like the anthem.
“I haven’t spoken to the president specifically about this. But I know he’s incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem,” Psaki said. “He would also say that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments when we as a country haven’t lived up to our ideals and it means respecting the right of people and the right in the constitution to peacefully protest.”
Berry wasn’t the only athlete to protest from the trials.
World 200 metres champion Noah Lyles had raised his left fist that was enclosed in a fingerless glove before the start of the men’s 100m final.
“Black lives matter,” Lyles said. “I felt like it was important that I throw up some symbol. I’ve done it before and I’m going to continue to do it.”
Reuters contributed to this report