American hammer thrower Gwen Berry felt forced to explain her actions during the national anthem on Saturday after images from the U.S. Olympic track and field trials showed her facing away from the flag while she was on the podium and the "Star Spangled Banner" played in the background. Berry, who is outspoken about racial injustice in the United States, said the moment felt like a setup.
"I was pissed, to be honest," she said.
"They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there," said Berry. "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 was receiving her bronze medal at the time that the song started. She then "fidgeted" in the direction of the stands, and then, towards the end of the song, she lifted a shirt that said "Activist Athlete" on it.
Those in attendance at this event hardly seemed to notice what was happening and didn't react at all. It wasn't until images of her facing the opposite direction of first-, and second-, place finishers DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen -- who had their hands over their hearts -- began to circulate online, that criticism towards Berry ramped up.
"My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports," Berry said. "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.
Berry has made symbolic protests during the playing of the national anthem before, raising her fist after winning the Pan-Am Games in 2019. As for accusation that she was set up, it's worth noting that a spokesperson for USA Track and Field gave the following comment on the situation: "[T]he national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. today. We didn't wait until the athletes were on the podium for the hammer throw awards. The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule."
On Saturday, it was played five minutes after that, at 5:25 pm.