U.S. hammer thrower Gwen Berry again defended her decision to turn her back on the American flag while covering her face with a shirt that said “Activist Athlete” during the national anthem over the weekend, dismissing allegations that she hates the country she represents.
Berry’s demonstration during the U.S. Olympic track and field trials on Saturday, where she earned her place on the U.S. Olympic team after finishing in third place, led many people to question why she would represent a country she does not believe in.
“We don’t need any more activist athletes,” Representative Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas) said during an appearance on Fox & Friends earlier this week. “She should be removed from the team. The entire point of the Olympic team is to represent the United States of America. It’s the entire point.”
On Monday, Berry responded to the backlash in an interview with the Black News Channel.
“I never said that I didn’t want to go to the Olympic Games, that’s why I competed and got third and made the team,” Berry said.
“I never said that I hated the country,” she added. “I never said that. All I said was I respect my people enough to not stand for or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people. Point blank, period.”
She went on to say that she takes issue with a line in “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which she says alludes to catching and beating slaves.
“If you know your history, you know the full song of the national anthem, the third paragraph speaks to slaves in America, our blood being slain…all over the floor,” she said. “It’s disrespectful and it does not speak for Black Americans. It’s obvious. There’s no question.”
The stanza in question reads:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion. A home and a Country should leave us no more? Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave. From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave. O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Some historians believe the lyrics should be read as a threat directed at the African American slaves who defected to the British during the War of 1812 in order to attain freedom.
Mark Clague, a musicologist at the university of Michigan, disagrees with that interpretation, arguing that the stanza was meant to disparage the British, not the African American slaves.
“The reference to slaves is about the use, and in some sense the manipulation, of black Americans to fight for the British, with the promise of freedom. The American forces included African-Americans as well as whites. The term “freemen,” whose heroism is celebrated in the fourth stanza, would have encompassed both,” Clague told the New York Times.
On Saturday, Berry said she was “pissed” with the timing of the national anthem, claiming she was told the anthem would be played before she stepped onto the podium instead of while the athletes stood upon it.
“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there … But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important,” she said. “The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” she continued. “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.”
However, USA Track and Field spokesperson Susan Hazzard said Berry’s claim that it was a set-up was not accurate, according to Fox News.