Hammer thrower Gwen Berry wasn’t trying to be a political spark plug when she raised her fist during the playing of the national anthem at the Pan Am Games in Peru. Yes, the moment invoked the memory of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. Yes, it was a shot at the current administration and the hate speech coming from the highest office in the land, but it was also a personal moment for all that she’s been through this past year.
“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she told NBC Sports. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”
Berry, 30, said that the moment was also about coaching changes and relocation from Mississippi to Houston, which took her away from her family. But she’s not backing down from the political implications that she knows her protest will have.
“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country,” she told NBC Sports.
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Berry wasn’t the only one to use her medal moment as an opportunity for protest. U.S. fencer Race Imboden stepped up on the podium to collect his medal and then took a knee during the national anthem.
After the event, Imboden, 26, took to Twitter to explain that he was carrying on the legacy left by Colin Kaepernick and many others to protest “racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrants and the rhetoric of President Donald Trump,” Yahoo Sports reports.
NBC Sports reports that both Berry and Imboden “might face repercussions from the U.S. Olympic Committee for his protest.” Apparently, there is a clause or some shit that prevents athletes from protesting at the Pan Am Games.
“In this case, Race didn’t adhere to the commitment he made to the organizing committee and the USOPC,” USOPC spokesperson Mark Jones said. “We respect his rights to express his viewpoints, but we are disappointed that he chose not to honor his commitment.”
Yahoo Sports notes that this isn’t the first time Imboden has taken a knee as he apparently did so at a World Cup event in Egypt in 2017, but it’s fencing in Egypt so no one knew it happened.
Imboden is a U.S. fencing beast having tallied “12 gold medals, one silver medal and two bronze medals at the Pan American Games between team and individual events. He scored bronze with the American foil team at the 2016 Olympics,” Yahoo Sports reports.
What’s most important here is that Berry and Imboden—barring injury or Trump’s deportation laws—are both going to Tokyo to represent the U.S. in the Olympics and if they medal, well, we will just have to wait and see what happens.