Athletes Receive 12 Months Probation After Protest at Pan American Games

Two American athletes who protested the national anthem during the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru were each given 12-months probation by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

Fencer Race Imboden and hammer thrower Gwen Berry were officially reprimanded on August 20 after protesting at the games. Imboden took a knee to protest major issues in the US and President Donald Trump, while Berry raised her fist during the national anthem to protest social injustice. Both athletes defended their actions at the competition.

USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland sent letters to reprimand Imboden and Berry on August 20, according to the Associated Press (AP). The two athletes were each given a 12-month probation along with a broader warning that athletes could face tougher punishments for protesting in the future.

“It is also important to me to point out that, going forward, issuing a reprimand to other athletes in a similar instance is insufficient,” Hirshland wrote in the letters, which were obtained by the AP. The letters clearly suggested that any athletes who attempt to do the same next year at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan will face stricter punishment.

“We recognize that we must more clearly define for Team USA athletes what a breach of these rules will mean in the future,” Hirshland added. “Working with the [athletes and national governing body councils], we are committed to more explicitly defining what the consequences will be for members of Team USA who protest at future Games.”

The Pan American Games follow the rules set by the Olympic Charter, including a ban against all demonstrations at its games.

In her letters, Hirshland said she respected the athletes’ intent and would work with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to “engage on a global discussion on these matters.” She added: “However, we can’t ignore the rules or the reasons they exist.”

Imboden, who won a gold and bronze medal at the Pan American Games, was photographed taking a knee during an awards ceremony on August 9. In a series of tweets, the 26-year-old fencer said he was honored to represent Team USA at the games, but said his pride was “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,” he wrote. “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.”

The fencer, who previously took a knee during a ceremony at the Pharaoh’s Challenge men’s foil fencing World Cup in Cairo, Egypt in 2017, told The New York Times he did not regret kneeling in Lima despite knowing he could face repercussions.

“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. “To hear that it is something that could be affected, obviously, scares me a lot. But I don’t regret my actions.”

A day after Imboden’s actions, 30-year-old Berry raised her fist during the national anthem. Her actions were immediately compared to those of athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who famously raised their fists in the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Games. Berry later told NBC Sports that the move was a “testament” to everything she has 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 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.”

Neither athlete has publicly commented on their suspensions. Both Imboden and Berry are eligible for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

After the protests, USOPC vice president of communications Mark Jones said Imboden and Berry did not adhere to the commitment they made to the organization. “We respect their rights to express their viewpoints, but we are disappointed that they chose not to honor their commitment,” Jones said in a statement to The North Star.

The USOPC did not respond to The North Star’s request for additional comment after the suspensions were made public.

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.