Tell U.S. Olympic Committee: Don't penalize protest
Fencer Race Imboden took home gold and bronze medals at the recent Pan Am Games. Hammer thrower Gwen Berry won gold. But it was what they did off the field that resulted in retribution from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
As the final notes of the national anthem played at the Pan Am medal ceremony, Berry raised her right fist in the air. Imboden kneeled – following the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe – explaining later that he did it to speak out on “racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrants and a president who spreads hate."1
As punishment, the U.S. Olympic Committee has put Berry and Imboden under a 12-month probation, risking their spots at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if they continue to exercise their constitutional right to speak out.2 That's unacceptable.
Tell U.S. Olympic Committee: Don't penalize protest.
"America can do better," Berry, a Black woman, said in an interview. Her protest reminded onlookers of the fists John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised at the 1968 Olympic Games. Imboden, ranked number one in the United States for fencing, explained that it was his duty to stand in solidarity with those facing gun violence or state terror:3,4
I’ve been honored to represent my country in international competition, and each time I hear our national anthem played, it’s a moment of personal pride. I love my country, full stop. When I look around, though, I see racial injustice, sexism, hate-inspired violence and scapegoating of immigrants. This isn’t new, but it feels like it’s getting worse, and after the mass killings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, I wanted to use that moment on the podium to send a message that things have to change.
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics represent an even bigger platform for these two athletes and countless others. Both Berry and Imboden are top U.S. athletes in their sports. But one more infraction would result in them being denied the opportunity to compete in Tokyo. Their probation sends a chilling signal to other athletes that if they protest before or in Tokyo, they will face punishment as well.
Donald Trump's white nationalist rhetoric tries to steal patriotism from the American people and make it the sole province of the radical right. The athletes who protest are reclaiming pride in country for those who are horrified by injustice, and yet they – especially women or athletes of color – face cruel and unceasing attacks from Trump and his lackeys. We need to tell the U.S. Olympic Committee that silencing dissent is tantamount to picking sides. They must rescind Berry and Imboden's probation and repeal their unjust policy.
Tell the U.S. Olympic Committee: Don't penalize protest.
Thank you for speaking out.
- Kimberly Richards, "Race Imboden, Gwen Berry Receive 12-Month Probations For Social Injustice Protests," HuffPost, Aug. 21, 2019.
- Race Imboden, "I’m proud to be an American fencing champion. Here’s why I knelt for our anthem." The Washington Post, Aug. 13, 2019.