ST. LOUIS — Stepping into the throwing circle, U.S. hammer thrower and St. Louisian Gwen Berry didn't say much at the Olympic Trials. Her approach, the steps and her release were silent, yet told us all we needed to hear.
With the work speaking for itself, Berry threw 73.5m, good enough for third place and a roster spot on Team USA for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She is officially a two-time Olympian.
"You see the mission, you see the purpose, you see the message," Berry said smiling while speaking towards an NBC camera.
That excitement soon turned to skepticism.
"We were told before going out to the podium that we would be introduced to the crowd either before the playing of the National Anthem or after the playing of the National Anthem because that's what they've done the whole trials," Berry said speaking of the moment she was about to receive her bronze medal.
But that is not how the sequence of events would unfold, she said.
"As soon as we got on the podium, all you hear is, 'Please rise for the playing of the National Anthem.' So I was stuck, I was literally stuck," Berry said.
When asked if she heard the National Anthem play for any other event, Berry responded with one word: "No."
Shocked with what was going on, Berry turned away from the American flag before draping a T-shirt over her head that read "activist athlete." This protest was somewhat similar to the 2019 Pan American Games when she lifted her fist in the air to raise awareness for social injustices.
Given how her message was received two years ago, Berry believed the timing of this year's anthem was a setup.
"They've risked so much money for these Olympic Games, and it's not enough talk because no one can go, 'The fans can't go, so people aren't really talking about the Olympic Games.' So of course, what do you do to get the media going? You create controversy," she said, detailing why she believes the National Anthem was played when she stepped on the podium.
The backlash was swift and furious. Berry said she and her family have been threatened, and some people have gone as far as to show up at her house and son's school, which she thinks is disrespectful.
On Fox News, former NFL player Jack Brewer said the U.S. Olympic committee "needs do something about this garbage," and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said Berry should be "removed from the team."
But Berry said she is an activist athlete, and the activist in her comes first. She said she's going to continue promoting racial change while doing what she loves.
Even though some view her as un-American, Berry believes her actions are the most American measures she can take.
"My people built this country," she said. "I am an American, so I can stand out and speak out for what I believe in because it is my constitutional right."
Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner has a different view.
"Honestly, it's disgusting," she said during an appearance on Newsmax. "Get out there. You are an athlete. Participate (and) do the best you possibly can show your talents. Stay out of politics. Don't use this great forum for your own political gain."
In response, Berry said nothing about her mission is political.
"I say Caitlyn Jenner does not know how it feels to be a Black person in America who's representing a country that has literally done nothing for Black people in America. She needs to do her research and understand the history in America before she says anything like that," Berry said.
Using her platform, Berry said it's her mission to speak for those with no voice and those no longer here.
"Just create a coalition to make sure that we are doing something to effectively change people's lives, because it's about the people. It's not about the symbols, it's not about the songs — it is about the people," she said.
Like Colin Kaepernick, Berry said she's ignoring the backlash and sparking conversations, no matter the outcome.
"I feel like his and my hearts are the same. We're trying to create effective change for the people. These are things that we know, we see, we've experienced in our live, and that's the most important thing," Berry said.