U.S. Olympic fencing medalist Race Imboden took a knee, while hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist on the podium to draw attention to social issues after earning gold medals at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, the last two days.
“We must call for change,” was tweeted from Imboden’s account. “This week I am honored to represent Team USA at the Pan Am Games, taking home Gold and Bronze. My pride however has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart. Racism, Gun Control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list. I chose to sacrifie [sic] my moment today at the top of the podium to call attention to issues that I believe need to be addressed. I encourage others to please use your platforms for empowerment and change.”
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee leadership is reviewing possible consequences. A spokesperson said that, before competing, Pan Am Games athletes commit to terms including refraining from political demonstrations.
“In this case, Race didn’t adhere to the commitment he made to the organizing committee and the USOPC,” USOPC spokesperson Mark Jones said. “We respect his rights to express his viewpoints, but we are disappointed that he chose not to honor his commitment.”
Imboden, a 2016 Olympic team event bronze medalist, previously took a knee, along with teammate Miles Chamley-Watson, throughout the “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a World Cup event in Egypt in 2017.
When Imboden earned his first world championships gold medal last month, also in the team event, he did not take a knee on the podium during the anthem.
The USOPC issued the same statement in response to Berry raising her fist at the end of the national anthem Saturday. Berry said Sunday morning she was to have a meeting with the USOPC later Sunday “to see what’s going to come of my action.”
Berry said her raised fist, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be “a big message.”
“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”
Berry, 30, said the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston. She has been among the world’s top three throwers each of the last three years.
“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”
Berry said she has not thought about whether she would do the same at the world championships in Doha early this fall.
“What I did yesterday was just something I felt in my soul that I should have done,” she said. “It was random. I haven’t thought about it. I really don’t want to make a spectacle.”
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