Outrage over Olympian Gwen Berry’s protest of anthem, flag only proves her point

OPINION: Right-wingers and extremists are trying to dismantle progress toward a more equal and just America -- one that Gwen Berry and others are fighting for

Gwendolyn Berry (L), third place, turns away from U.S. flag during the U.S. National Anthem as DeAnna Price (C), first place, and Brooke Andersen, second place, also stand on the podium after the Women’s Hammer Throw final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics kicks off this month, and there’s no shortage of related topics being discussed at every level of entertainment and politics. This year, Team USA is stacked with incredible talent, including a growing list of Black athletes who will have the opportunity to compete for the gold medal. 

But to much surprise, these Black athletes aren’t only making headlines because of their world-class athleticism. Many political figures have stepped into the ‘dialogue ring’ to criticize some of their choices to use their platforms to peacefully protest systemic racism and the mistreatment of African Americans in the United States. 

More recently, U.S. Olympic hammer thrower and activist Gwen Berry made headlines for turning her back on the American flag during the national anthem at the Olympic trials. Berry said she was told the anthem would be played before her and other athletes took the podium, and she felt “it was very disrespectful” that the anthem was played once they took the stage facing the crowd.

“My purpose and my mission are bigger than sports. I’m here to represent those who died due to systemic racism,” she said. “That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.” 

Gwen Berry and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, theGrio.com
Gwen Berry and Rep. Dan Crenshaw. (Photo: Getty Images)

But Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) didn’t want to hear (or see) it. “If you’re going to represent the Team USA, you should, well, you should like the USA, and the mere notion of supporting the United States shouldn’t offend you if you’re going to be on Team USA after all,” Crenshaw said.

Similarly, The View co-host Meghan McCain said, “That it is not appropriate or patriotic to go to a foreign country where you’re supposed to be representing America and act like its just about you. It’s not about you! It’s about all of us.”

Crenshaw, McCain, and other white Republicans like them, clearly miss the point of protests by Black athletes like Berry, and their knee-jerk reactions only prove her point.

This isn’t the first nor last time athletes have been severely criticized for exercising their first amendment right under the U.S. Constitution, including freedom of speech and peaceful protest. A classic example of how far naysayers will go to suppress Black Americans from expressing this right is former athlete Colin Kaepernick — he literally lost his football career for consistently kneeling during the national anthem at his football games on behalf of Black Americans in the face of police brutality.

Unfortunately, the systemic and political hold Republicans have on all facets of American life forced Kaepernick to choose between taking a knee or losing his love (football). Commendably, the former NFL star chose what was most important to him.

So what’s the big deal over Black athletes protesting America’s national anthem and flag? And why are activists criticized for using their platforms to respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights?

Colin Kaepernick thegrio.com
Colin Kaepernick (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Perhaps it’s because the right-wingers and extremists refuse to acknowledge their attempts at dismantling the progression toward a more equal and just America. During Donald Trump‘s presidency, he supervised the U.S. government’s retreat from the front lines of civil rights, jeopardizing years of progress against voter suppression, housing discrimination and police brutality.

The moment John McCain stood in favor of Americans’ right to kneel during the national anthem, Trump turned his back on him, even disrespecting McCain in death. “He did the nation a tremendous disservice,” Trump said about McCain after his passing. 

Simply put, it’s the expected and racist privilege that many White Americans are holding on to with every grip. U.S. Republicans and right-wingers have, for decades, attempted to use the Constitution and American politics to their benefit — to uplift the racist and white supremacist ideation that “White is right,” to enforce the segregation of race and culture in the United States, and to suppress the many American voices that demand equality and freedom. Freedom from poverty, racism, neglect, and inequality.

Unfortunately, it’s easier for Republicans to silence the cry than to address the real issue — which is that racism and a lack of freedom for Black people still exist.  

Eartha Hopkins theGrio.com

Eartha Hopkins is an alumna of The Ohio State University. Born with a penchant for storytelling, the lifestyle and beauty Journalist offers a distinct voice with the goal to inspire her generation to live authentically. Be sure to catch her two cents on her website muvvaearth.com and Instagram @eartha__hopkins.

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