The New York Times
The New York Times 8 Sep 2020

Why The Olympics Punished Me For Protesting

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In sports arenas around the world, taking a knee is no longer taboo — it's trending. But there's at least one place where protesting is still not allowed.

The Olympic medal podium.

In the video Op-Ed above, the track and field Olympian Gwen Berry confronts Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, over what she feels is his organization's hypocrisy: Olympians are celebrated for their courage, drive and tenacity. But if they are spurred by those same traits to demand racial justice? That's a punishable offense.

On the podium at the 2019 Pan Am Games, Berry raised her fist. Then she paid for it. She was reprimanded by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and is now unsponsored. She is among the top hammer throwers in the world, but hasn't received an athletic grant since protesting.

Berry is a Black woman without a safety net defying a global organization that brought in $165 million in profits in 2018. Yet athletes like her — who often scrape by — are faced with an impossible dilemma: keep their mouths shut or jeopardize their career to fight for justice.

Berry has fought to get to where she is today. She was raised by her grandmother in a household of 13 in Ferguson, Mo. After having a son at age 15, she earned a college scholarship and became a top hammer thrower. While training to qualify for the Olympics in 2016, she held down two jobs — working at Dick's Sporting Goods during the day and delivering Insomnia Cookies at night — and helped support 10 extended-family members back home.

Last month, Team USA formed a council to make recommendations on race and social justice. But Berry says as long as free speech is censored, volunteer committees are not enough.

As for what she really wants? You'll have to hear it from her in the video above.

This time, she won't be silenced.


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