White House supports Olympian Gwen Berry's anthem protest

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After Gwen Berry protested during the playing of the national anthem at the Olympic Trials on Saturday, turning away from the flag before draping a T-shirt over her face, the U.S. hammer thrower has experienced a mixed bag of criticism and support.

One of those supporters was White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said at a hearing Monday that while she hasn’t spoken to her boss about Berry’s demonstration in particular, she knows President Biden would approve of the peaceful protest.

“I know [President Biden 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,” Psaki said.

“He 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 it means respecting the rights of people granted to them in the Constitution to peacefully protest.”

Berry has demonstrated during the anthem before, saying she is attempting to bring notice to systemic racism. She finished third in the hammer throwing event Saturday, booking a trip to the Tokyo Olympics next month. She didn’t expect “The Star-Spangled Banner” to play while she was on the podium, though, since the anthem is played once per day at the trials rather than at each medal presentation, as it at the Olympics.

Berry turned away from the flag and held up a T-shirt with “Activist Athlete” written on it. She told USA TODAY after the event that she felt she was set up.

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

Berry said she plans to demonstrate during the anthem while in Tokyo, hoping to attract attention to what motivates her to compete. While the International Olympic Committee doesn’t allow demonstrations or protests on the field of play or during medal ceremonies, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee changed its rules in April to allow for such demonstrations.

“Sports is entertainment. But my purpose and my voice and my mission is bigger than the sport,” Berry told USA TODAY. “So me being able to represent my communities and my people, and those who have died at the hands of police brutality, those who have died [due] to this systemic racism — I feel like that’s the important part. That’s why I’m going, and that’s why I was here today.”

Berry has received ample criticism in the days following her protest, though, including Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Texas Republican. Crenshaw said athletes who protest should be removed from the U.S. Olympic team.

In a tweet, Berry noted that the reaction showed that her message was being lost or ignored during the backlash, and she clarified in a separate tweet that she “never said I hated this country!” Instead, she wants to speak out against racism, using her platform to do so.

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