National Anthem Protest: This past weekend, US Olympian Gwen Berry turned away from the American flag as the national anthem played. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: National Anthem Protest
This past weekend, US Olympian Gwen Berry logged a third-place finish in the hammer-throw event at the US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon. During the medal ceremony, Berry turned away from the American flag as the national anthem played. She went on to tell the Associated Press she felt like she’d been “set up” after originally being told the anthem would play before medalists walked out to the podium for the award ceremony. USA Track and Field spokesperson Susan Hazzard responded, saying, “… The national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule.” Berry will go on to Tokyo with the US team for her second Olympic Games, where protests and demonstrations are banned under Rule 50. Here’s what both sides are saying about her actions this past weekend.
On The Right
A tweet from Senator Ted Cruz summarizes how right-leaning representatives and pundits feel about Berry’s protest. He said, “Why does the Left hate America? Sure, we have our faults, but no nation in the history of the world has liberated more people from captivity, has lifted more out of poverty, has bled more for freedom, or has blessed more w/ abundance.”
“Let Gwen Berry represent a country less offensive than the US.” Washington Examiner: “This should not be a difficult decision: If an athlete literally representing the United States of America will not stand respectfully for the US flag and anthem, the athlete can find another country that doesn’t offend them as much. … This has nothing to do with freedom of speech or the right to protest. Athletes can protest all they want. … The Olympics are different. … If Gwen Berry wants to represent the US at the Olympics, she should not insult her fellow citizens by dishonoring its flag and anthem. … The Olympics is and always was intended to be an apolitical zone. … If Gwen Berry will not abide by those rules, she should not compete in the Olympics in Tokyo. Better yet, unless she agrees to abide by them, the USOPC should replace her on the national team.”
“How, Exactly, Can One Represent America but Oppose Its Anthem and Flag?” Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review: “Competing in the Olympics on behalf of one’s nation is not a condition of citizenship or an unavoidable part of life; it is something that one explicitly elects to do. … I do not understand how one can expect to represent the United States while objecting to the anthem and the flag of the United States. It would be akin to expecting to represent the New York Yankees while disavowing the city and refusing to wear pinstripes. We are all free to make decisions, and to justify those decisions however we see fit. We must be free, too, to deal with the consequences. If Berry wishes to compete in the Olympics without the baggage that comes with being an American, she can apply to do so independently.”
“Olympian Gwen Berry the latest athlete to promote herself with George Floyd Ice Anthem Challenge” Jason Whitlock, The Blaze: “Gwen Berry is the first famous American hammer thrower. She finished third at Saturday’s Olympic trials. No one knows who finished first and second, because no one really cares and because Berry’s national anthem gimmick overshadowed the women who were better than her. … National anthem protests are publicity stunts, and not for the memory of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, or any other victims of alleged ‘systemic racism,’ aka systemic resisting arrest. … Berry’s purpose is to drum up attention for Gwen Berry and make herself worthy of an endorsement deal from Nike or some other woke global corporation. It’s a money grab she’s dressed up as activism. She’s learned from some of the best in the business. Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, Malcolm Jenkins, LeBron James, the nameless, faceless players of the WNBA. The George Floyd Ice Anthem Challenge is particularly popular with female athletes dissatisfied with the attention they receive. … Berry is attention-starved. The easiest path to attention for the modern athlete is pretending your life is dedicated to solving systemic resisting arrests.”
On The Left
White House press secretary Jen Psaki summarized left-leaning sentiment regarding the matter. After a reporter asked what President Biden thought of the move, she responded, “I haven’t spoken to the president specifically about this, but I know he’s incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem and all that it represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform all around the world.” She added: “He would also say, of course, that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we are — as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals. And it means respecting the rights of people granted to them in the Constitution to peacefully protest.”
“Gwen Berry turned her back on the American flag — as she should.” Nylah Burton, The Independent: “Black athletes who stand up for themselves — whether it’s taking a knee like football player Colin Kaepernick or advocating for their own self-care like tennis champion Naomi Osaka — almost always receive intense backlash. … Berry and Kaepernick clearly believe in freedom. Otherwise, why would they risk their careers to speak out against the system stripping it from Black Americans? No, their detractors aren’t upset because ‘activist athletes’ don’t value the supposed American values of freedom and liberty. They’re furious because these athletes, by refusing to revere our country’s anthem, are pointing out what has been clear for a long time. The US is hypocritical every time it claims to be a shining light of liberty. And until it becomes one for real, we must all bend our knees towards freedom and turn our backs against injustice, facing the dream of true liberty with open hearts and courageous spirits.”
“What’s un-American about Gwen Berry’s Olympic trials protest? The reaction to it.” Tom Jones, Poynter: “Supposedly one of the great things about America is our freedom. The freedom to think. The freedom of speech. The freedom to peacefully protest. All Americans seem to agree these are the freedoms that make America great. Well, until we disagree with the protest, that is. Or the timing. Or the location. Or who is protesting. … No surprise that Berry was criticized, especially by conservatives such as Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw. … Berry’s protest has been — and surely will continue — making the rounds on conservative TV, radio, and other outlets. Her actions will be called un-American even though what she did is about as American as it can get and, supposedly, part of what makes our country so special. … Well, unless you don’t agree with her, it seems.”
“Behold the Queen” Jay Connor, The Root: “As usual, gaslighters and their ilk are more concerned with symbolism than the American citizens these symbols are supposed to unify and represent. Instead of addressing the matter and creating solutions for the racial dynamics that Berry’s actions are meant to draw attention to … Americans would much rather banish her from the sport and flood the internet with dismissive drivel. … And this is exactly why, much like Berry, I pay the national anthem no mind. Because as America has proven time and time again—especially in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 US Capitol insurrection—it’s never about the flag or the national anthem. It’s always about racism. … So please keep in mind that every time we see Berry step to the podium henceforth, we’re in the presence of unyielding royalty. And heavy is the head that wears the crown, so treat the queen accordingly.”
Flag This: National Anthem Protest
In a February Morning Consult poll, “76 percent of US adults said the national anthem should be played prior to professional sporting events, including 60 percent who said it should ‘definitely’ be part of the pregame routine. … 81% of white people believe ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ should be played before games, compared to 70% of Hispanic and 60% of Black adults. 55% of US adults agree that Americans ‘don’t care enough about preserving traditions anymore.’ 46% of US adults agree with the notion that ‘social justice warriors are ruining sports.'”
Regardless of whether you support or oppose Berry’s protest, the act feels a bit unoriginal. Taking a knee during the anthem and turning away from the Flag has been done before. If Berry really wanted to make a statement, she could have gotten a bit more creative. For example, most Americans have no idea there are four official verses to the national anthem. Even fewer know about a little-known, unofficial fifth verse written by poet Oliver Wendell Holmes a half century after Francis Scott Key wrote the original “Star-Spangled Banner.” It goes like this:
When our land is illum’d with Liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down, with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchain’d who our birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.
Written in 1861 during the Civil War, Holmes’ “stanza feels hopeful because it looks forward to the emancipation of enslaved people — ‘the millions unchain’d,’’’ history professor Stephen Mucher says. It would have been interesting if Berry sang or tweeted that verse rather then do something that’s been done before. Activism through education would have been a novel way to make a statement and inform her fellow Americans. Unfortunately, Berry got lazy and chose the easy way out.
Flag Poll: National Anthem Protest
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