Social media has been buzzing this week with its varying opinions on athlete Gwen Berry’s protest of the national anthem during the medal ceremony at the U.S. track and field Olympic trials. Many people are calling for her immediate removal from the United States team, while others have expressed their support for her protest. I believe it is crucial for athletes to use their position to speak up when they see problems in their home nation.
Gwen Berry is not the first to protest against the nation she represents in the Olympics. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, 200-meter bronze medalist John Carlos and gold medalist Tommie Smith raised their fists in a Black Power salute when the American national anthem was played. At this point in history, racial tensions in the United States were escalating; Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated a few months earlier and opposition to the Vietnam War was ramping up. As a result of their protest, both men were kicked out of the Olympic Village, suspended from the U.S. track and field team and sent home.
Since this event, several others have protested various injustices happening in their home countries on the world stage of the Olympics. However, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) has previously banned such protests from occurring. According to the IOC’s official guidelines, “Athletes are prohibited by the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50 from taking a political stand in the field of play.” Several have expressed disagreement with these guidelines, including World Athletics Chief Sebastian Coe, who stated, “Athletes are a part of the world and they want to reflect the world they live in. For me, that is perfectly acceptable.
In the case of Gwen Berry, I believe that our society should strive to be anti-racist, informed and inclusive to all. The Olympics are no exception. Therefore, we deserve to have athletes that represent the opinions of all of our nation's citizens, not just those who remain blinded in the face of injustice. It is vital to our nation's future that we don’t become complacent to the way things have “always” been. Protesting at the Olympics should not be grounds for athletes to be expelled from the team but rather encouragement for us as a nation to look at our flaws and address them. True patriotism is having pride in your country, but also being able to realize its faults.
By Rachel Van Horne, Associate Editor