(ATR) Hammer thrower Gwen Berry wants the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to act on its words and apologize to her.
Gwen Berry of the USA during the hammer throw medal ceremony at Lima 2019. (Panam Sports)
In a letter to US athletes on Tuesday, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland addressed the protests across the United States against police brutality following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"We absolutely condemn the systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States," Hirshland wrote.
"It has no place in ours or any other community. It is clear there are no forces as ugly, damaging and demeaning as racism and marginalization practiced by some of those in positions of authority.
“We can see that apathy and indifference are not solutions. The USOPC stands with those who demand equality and we want to work in pursuit of that goal.”
Hirshland’s comments drew the ire of Berry, who was reprimanded by the USOPC last year for protesting during her medal ceremony after winning gold at the Pan American Games in Lima.
She was placed on probation for 12 months after raising a clenched fist to protest racial injustice, mirroring the black power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.
Berry, on social media on Tuesday, called at first for a written apology and then later for a public one. She told Hirshland on Twitter to "stop playing with me". She says the probation has cost her around $50,000 in lost sponsorship money.
The day before Berry’s protest in Lima, fencer Race Imboden knelt on the podium while the national anthem was played after he won gold in the team foil competition. He followed the ‘take a knee’ protest launched by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Imboden received the same punishment as Berry for his actions.
In a letter in August 2019 to both athletes announcing their punishment, Hirshland said “You have made clear that you were demonstrating to bring attention to the current state of affairs in our country and to call for change. I applaud your decision to be an active citizen. It is admirable.”
But Hirshland added that she disagreed “with the moment and manner” of the demonstrations. Making a political statement at the Pan Am Games is not allowed. The demonstrations are also not permitted by the USOPC.
The International Olympic Committee in January warned that any athlete protesting on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics would face serious consequences. Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter prohibits athletes from any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” at all Olympic venues.
Rule 50 does allow any protest or demonstration outside Olympic venues, as long as it complies with local laws. The IOC says athletes are free to speak their mind during interviews and press conferences in mixed zones, Main Press Center and International Broadcast Center, team meetings and on social media platforms.
The question of an apology for Berry could be a topic of discussion on Friday, when the USOPC will convene and support an athlete town hall to “openly discuss” the events of the past days.
Hirshland says the town hall will be facilitated by athletes and available to athletes.
Written by Gerard Farek
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