Who is Gwen Berry? Here’s why the Olympian is off to a controversial start

Activist athlete Gwen Berry turned heads with a bold move at the Track and Field Trials in Oregon

Gwen Berry displays an Activist Athlete shirt as she celebrates finishing third in the Women's Hammer Throw final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field
(Image credit: Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Olympics aren't all fun and games, and Gwen Berry's bold stance shows that the event can become divisive—and quickly. 

USA camaraderie was put to the test when the self-proclaimed activist athlete protested the National Anthem at the Track and Field Trials. Now, followers are curious to learn more about the USA's third-place Olympic hammer thrower and voice their opinion about her stance. 

Let's meet the Olympic star and find out what hers is the name on everyone's lips. 

What did Gwen Berry do?

Following DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen, the first and second place hammer thrower winners respectively, Gwen Berry took the podium in Eugene, Oregon, as the "Star-Spangled Banner" played.

Unlike her fellow athletes, Berry seemingly turned away from the flag and donned a T-shirt over her head that read "activist athlete" towards the end of the song. 

This caused a stir online, particularly amongst conservative Americans, some of whom went as far as to suggest that she be banned from the Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Gwen 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

(Image credit: Patrick Smith/Getty)

Despite the negative response, Berry believes her message and dedication to the sport is about more than athletics—it's about a call for racial unity and respect.

"My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports," she said, according to CBS (opens in new tab). "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."

She defended her stance on Twitter—which was met with both praise and scorn—saying, "I never said I hated this country! People try to put words in my mouth but they can't. That's why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE."

See more

Is Gwen Berry a veteran? More on the Olympic hammer thrower

Gwen Berry has used her platform to advocate change in the past. In 2019, she protested racial injustice on the medal stand during the Pan American Games in Lima. This move caused grave consequences: a year-long probation that was eventually overturned. However, Berry thought the issue was far too large to be ignored.

Despite backlash from other military personnel, Berry has the unwavering support of one Iraq War veteran: her father, Michael. In 2019, in response to his daughter raising her right fist in protest during the anthem at the Pan American Games, Michael Berry told ESPN (opens in new tab): "For her to do that on the podium is more American than anything, if you ask me. Because that's what our country is founded on: freedom of expression, freedom of speech."

She also has a supporter in President Joe Biden. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on behalf of POTUS: "[President Biden] would also say, of course, that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we, as a country, haven't lived up to our highest ideals, and it means respecting the right of people, granted to them in the Constitution, to peacefully protest."

Berry will also have the support of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee should she choose to publicly and peacefully protest during the Tokyo Olympics. The committee informed Olympic athletes last December that any such protests and demonstrations will be honored and not punished, reported USA Today (opens in new tab). This move notably goes against the International Olympic Committee, which forbids athletes from protesting on the podium or in the field of play.

Gwen Berry of United States competes in Women's Hammer Throw Final on Day 15 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games

(Image credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Gwen Berry's college life

The Missouri native is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, where she studied psychology and criminal justice. Although she was recruited to be a triple jumper for her school, she eventually switched gears and attempted the hammer. She threw the Junior National Qualifying mark in her first three months of training for the event, according to her website. The rest is history.

Following her graduation, Gwen Berry was a 2016 Olympian and hopes to become the first U.S. hammer thrower to medal at a World Championship, according to her website. Through virtual and in-person events, such as social media shoutouts and coaching, Berry donates half of her proceeds to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Gwen Berry National Anthem video

After photos and videos circulated of Berry protesting the American flag, she took time to appear on BNC to discuss her decision, respond to the backlash, and show the importance of love for her family and her community. 

Danielle Valente

Danielle is a writer for woman&home and My Imperfect Life, covering all-things news, lifestyle and entertainment. 

The heart of her time at Future has been devoted to My Imperfect Life, where she's been attuned to the cosmos, new TV shows and relationship trends.  

Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids and a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, amNewYork and Newsday, among other outlets. 

When Danielle is not working, you can usually find her reading a book, coffee at hand, or attempting a new recipe. (Recommendations always welcome!)