When last we left Gwen Berry, the U.S. Olympic hammer thrower was dismissed and disgraced after raising her fist during the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games. In response to her decision to protest racial injustice in America, she was slapped with one year of probation for violating the International Olympic Committee’s code that prohibits political demonstrations at international events. In turn, big money sponsors like Nike withdrew their support and the world-renowned track and field athlete’s career was officially in jeopardy.
“A lot of things need to be done and said and changed,” she said of her courageous act in 2019. “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.”
She continued, “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.”
Clearly, the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee felt otherwise.
In the time since, the 31-year-old has bore witness to the same corporations that once turned their backs on her, now extolling the virtues of social movements like Black Lives Matter. Nike in particular launched an entire campaign in support of Colin Kaepernick, while somehow having the audacity to abandon Berry for basically doing the exact same thing.
Thankfully, Berry has since found a savior in Color of Change, who are sponsoring the Pan American Games gold medalist throughout the 2021 calendar year. And as he continues her quest to secure a spot in this summer’s Tokyo Games, Color of Change is also pressuring corporations to lend their support to the cause as well. To that end, the Washington Post reports that Puma has stepped up to the plate with a $15,000 contract that will also provide her with the necessary apparel and equipment to help bring home the gold. She’ll also participate in a campaign called “She Moves Us.”
“It’s one of the reasons why I’m still in this sport,” Berry told the Post. “If it wasn’t for Color of Change, I probably would not be in this sport.”
But Color of Change still has its foot on Nike’s neck, as evidenced by a scathing op-ed the civil rights advocacy organization wrote for this very outlet back in September.
“We’re tired of corporations only supporting Black people when it’s convenient or profitable. Athletes who stand up for racial justice should be rewarded, not punished, for their protests,” Color of Change wrote. “As an organization that has lifted up Black collegiate and professional athletes for years, Color of Change is proud to sponsor Berry—but it shouldn’t be up to civil rights groups to step in when corporations fail to meet the moment. We need Nike to put its money where its mouth is—and immediately renew its sponsorship of Gwen Berry.”
As for Berry, the USOPC has since softened its stance on protests and will now allow them during the Olympic trials. But in Tokyo, where the IOC reigns supreme, the Florissant, Mo., native remains subject to further punishment should she make another defiant stance in support of Black lives.
Don’t expect that to deter her from doing so, though.
“Absolutely not,” she told the Post. “The IOC will see me, and they will hear me.”
And here at The Root, we’ll always do our part to ensure that her voice is heard.