Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.
“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”
Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.
This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”
Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.
“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.
“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”
Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.
“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.
Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.
“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”
On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.
The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.
“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 then. “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 said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.
“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 also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”
“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”
NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nzaccardi