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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday defended the “peaceful protest” of Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who on Saturday turned away from the US flag while the National Anthem played and covered her head with her t-shirt that read, “Activist Athlete.”
Berry said she was “pissed” to hear the Star Spangled Banner after winning a bronze medal at the US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials.
“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,” Psaki said at her daily press briefing.
Psaki 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.”
Berry, 31, was a member of the 2016 US Olympics team and is expected to participate in the Tokyo Olympics that begin in late July.
Hammer throwing features twirling about and tossing a large round weight.
“It was real disrespectful,” Berry said after the National Anthem played.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry said. “But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important. The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” she added. “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.”
Berry said ”I didn’t really want to be up there… it was a setup. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade.”
Francis Scott Key authored the patriotic song during the War of 1812 while aboard a British ship during the 1814 attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. It became the National Anthem in 1931.
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