American Athlete Gwen Berry Raises Fist in Protest at Pan-American Games 

American athletes Gwen Berry and Race Imboden face possible consequences after making silent political protests during the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru. On August 9, US fencer Race Imboden took a knee during an awards ceremony. The following day, hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who is Black, raised her fist during the national anthem. The two have defended their actions.

In a pair of statements posted on Twitter, 26-year-old Imboden said he was honored to represent Team USA at the Pan-American Games. “My pride however has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart,” Imboden wrote.

“Racism, Gun Control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list,” he continued. “I chose to sacrifice 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.”

Imboden later told reporters that he felt compelled to use his platform to speak on the issues that sadden him as an American citizen and as an American athlete. Friday’s action was not the first time Imboden took a knee at a fencing event, The New York Times reported. The fencer and a teammate took a knee during a ceremony at the Pharaoh’s Challenge men’s foil fencing World Cup in Cairo, Egypt in 2017.

On Saturday, 30-year-old Berry raised her fist during the national anthem. The hammer thrower’s action drew comparisons to athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

Berry, who won gold in the women’s hammer throw competition, told NBC Sports that her action was not meant to be “a big message” but instead a “testament” to what she’s endured in the last year.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she told NBC Sports. “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 referenced the challenges of switching coaches and moving from Oxford, Mississippi to Houston, Texas. She also noted that the First Amendment gives her the freedom to express her opinions. “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,” she said.

Both athletes, who told reporters they were unsure if they would do the same at future competitions, now face possible consequences, US Olympic & Paralympic officials said.

“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan-American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature. In these cases, the athletes didn’t adhere to the commitment they made to the organizing committee and the [United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC)],” Mark Jones, vice president of communications at the USOPC, said in a statement to The North Star.

Jones continued: “We respect their rights to express their viewpoints, but we are disappointed that they chose not to honor their commitment. Our leadership are reviewing what consequences may result.”

The Pan-American Games did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for additional comment. Imboden told The New York Times that he knew he could face repercussions for his action but he did not regret kneeling. “To lose fencing for me is the only thing in my life, other than my loved ones, family, and friends, that would affect me greatly,” he said. “So to hear that it is something that could be affected, obviously, scares me a lot. But I don’t regret my actions.”

The young fencer is not the first, nor will he be the last, athlete to take a knee at a sporting event. Other recent silent political protests include those of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who knelt during the national anthem before an NFL game to protest police brutality in the US. Other athletes, like Eric Reid of the Carolina Panthers, Bruce Maxwell formerly of the Oakland Athletics, and Megan Rapinoe of the US women’s soccer team, have followed suit.


About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.