Hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who has come under fire for turning her back towards the United States flag during the playing of the national anthem at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday, said the national anthem “does not speak for black Americans” and its history made her uncomfortable.
“If you know the full song of the national anthem, the dark paragraphs speaks to slaves in America, our blood being slain and” shed on the ground, she explained in a Black News Channel interview.
“It does not speak for black Americans. It’s obvious. There’s no question,” she said. “I respect my people enough to not stand or acknowledge something that disrespects my people. I love my people. Point blank. Period.”
The lyrics from the third verse of the full version of the "Star-Spangled Banner" reads: "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."
Berry, who earned her spot on the U.S. Olympic team for the second time after placing third at the trials, caused a national uproar for protesting the national anthem as it played while she stood on the podium after receiving her bronze medal in the hammer throw event.
According to ESPN, Berry took a quarter turn and faced the stands, not the flag. Photos of the moment captured Berry facing the stands with her hands on her hip while the other athletes on the podium placed their hands over their chest and faced the flag.
Toward the end, Berry draped a black T-shirt over her head with the words "Activist Athlete" emblazoned on the front.
Several high-profile conservatives, such as Sen. Tom Cotton R-Ark., called for Berry to be removed from the U.S. Team Monday.
"I don’t think it’s too much when athletes are competing to wear the Stars and Stripes — to compete under the Stars and Stripes in the Olympics — for them to simply honor that flag and our anthem on the medal stand," Cotton said in a Fox News interview. "If Ms. Berry is so embarrassed by America, then there’s no reason she needs to compete for our country. She should be removed from the Olympic team."
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also tweeted: "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," Cruz argued.
Former Republican presidential candidate and ex-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also slammed Berry’s conduct on Twitter.
"What is wrong with people? Growing up, everyone stood for the American flag. Didn't matter your politics, race, sex, income, religion; everyone stood for the flag. It was one of those civic rituals that brought us together. It still should today,” he lamented.
In her BNC News interview, Berry argued that while she doesn’t support the anthem, she did not plan to create controversy over the flag. She insists she was “set up.”
“Originally we were not even supposed to be on the podium during the singing or the playing of the national anthem,” she said.
She claimed that athletes were told they would be introduced to the crowds before or after the anthem played.
“No one made any mention or notion that we would be on the podium or asked to be on the podium during the singing of the national anthem," she said. "I want to make that clear. Those were our directions — either before or after. No other event group that I know of stood on the podium during the playing of the national anthem."
“However, [when] we went out to introduce ourselves to the crowd coincidentally, the national anthem was playing, and they asked us to stand on the podium. And then the anthem played. In that moment, I feel like it was a setup because those were not the directions. It was not the intent,” she added. “If I knew that I was going to be on the podium, I would have chose[n] something else.”