White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that President Joe Biden “respect[s] the right” of an embattled Olympic athlete to “peacefully protest,” a day after Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry turned her back on the American flag during a medal ceremony at the United States Olympic trials in Oregon.
Asked about the incident, Psaki said that Biden has not spoken specifically about Berry, but that he respects her right to “peacefully protest.”
The president, Psaki added, is “incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem and all that it represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform all around the world.”
But, she added, Biden “would also say, of course, that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we are, as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals, and that means respecting the rights of people, granted to them in the Constitution, to peacefully protest.”
As the Daily Wire reported Sunday, athlete Gwen Berry said she felt as though she was “set up” when the “Star-Spangled Banner” played while she was on the podium receiving her third-place medal for the hammer throw — and award that qualifies her to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“As the National Anthem began to play with the winners standing on the podium, Berry turned away from the flag so that she was facing the stands. Toward the end of the anthem, she pulled up a black t-shirt with the words ‘Activist Athlete’ on the front to cover her head,” the Daily Wire noted.
Berry says she was told the anthem would play sometime before she was on the podium receiving her medal. USA Track and Field, which handled the Olympic qualifier event, said that the anthem is scheduled to play daily at 5:20, per a “previously published schedule,” and that the hammer throw athletes happened to be on the podium at the right time.
“I feel like it was setup,” Berry told The Washington Post. “I feel like they did that on purpose, and 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.”
After receiving blowback for her protest, Berry lashed out on social media, telling her followers that “people in American rally patriotism over basic morality.”
While the White House backed Berry, other legislators called for her to be removed from the United States’ Olympic team.
“We don’t need any more activist athletes,” Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) told Fox News on Monday. “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.”
The United States Olympic Committee allows athletes to protest during national anthems, and pledged, last year, not to punish athletes that take a knee on the podium, raise their fist, or wear apparel with political slogans like, “Black Lives Matter.” The International Olympic Committee is not as tolerant of political protest. According to the IOC’s Rule 50, which prohibits athletes from making a statement during events or official ceremonies.
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