Protest At The Podium
An Olympian turns away from the U.S. flag during the national anthem, igniting debate not only about what's appropriate but what's *allowed* during competition.
Here's the backstory and what to know.
- Olympic hammer thrower and activist Gwen Berry made headlines at last weekend’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
- Berry took to the podium after receiving her bronze medal. When the national anthem played, she turned away from the U.S. flag and faced the stands, placing her hand on her hip. She then held up a t-shirt reading “Activist Athlete” and draped it over her head.
- At the 2019 Pan-Am Games, Berry raised her fist on the podium as the anthem played. She was sanctioned and lost sponsorships.
"The anthem doesn't speak for me."
Berry said the timing of the anthem was a “set-up” because she was told it would play either before or after the athletes took the podium. USA Track and Field said it was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m., based on a preset schedule, and that they didn’t wait for the athletes to take to the podium to play it. The anthem started at 5:25 p.m. In response to the backlash, Berry said the anthem (specifically the third paragraph) doesn’t speak for black Americans, and that she’s going to the Olympics to represent those who “died due to systemic racism” because her purpose and mission is “bigger than sports.”
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
- The “Flag Code” states that the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem, & contains guidance about what to do when the flag is displayed when the anthem is played.
- It says that people in uniform, members of the military, & veterans “should” give the military salute.
- It says civilians “should” face the flag & stand at attention with their right hand over their heart.
- FYI: The Code contains no penalties; you can’t be punished for not standing/facing the flag.
WHAT THE U.S. & INTL. OLYMPIC CMTES SAY
- After Berry was sanctioned in 2019, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Cmte. said it would no longer punish athletes who engage in peaceful protest (ex: kneeling, raising a fist).
- HOWEVER, that stance is contrary to the one take by the International Olympic Cmte. (IOC) – the body that runs the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.
- IOC Rule 50 says: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues ….”
IOC RULE 50
- Rule 50 has been in place for many years. In the 1968 Summer Olympics, U.S. sprinters (John Carlos & Tommie Smith) were sent home for violating it by raising their fists at the podium during the national anthem.
- The IOC rules – not the U.S. Olympic Cmte. rules – apply at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, but IOC guidelines say athletes who violate Rule 50 will be evaluated by their country’s cmte. rules, in conjunction with the Intl. Federation and IOC, noting “disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis as necessary.”
In recent years, the IOC has come under increased pressure to modify Rule 50, which it says is aimed at avoiding “divisive disruption” and keeping the focus on the athletes in order to unify the world. The IOC says international unity and facilitating the understanding of different views can only be accomplished if “everybody respects this diversity.” The IOC also notes that athletes are free to express their views outside Olympic sites, such as in official press conferences and via social media.
by Jenna Lee,