This agonizing month of June was the best in a long time. After a year and a half plagued by the tragic pandemic that claimed millions of lives, glimpses of normalcy are finally beginning to arrive from Europe, via the fantastic European Championship. These are vibrant matches, with the public as a special seasoning and images that move us through the national feeling and the desire to compete for their people, their country and their national team.
Hungarians singing the anthem with their national team after competing at the highest level in the “group of death”; the Italian team leaving their throats in Il Canto degli Italiani; the Danes embraced their great national team after recovering from the adversities of the first two matches; all gratifying scenes that June left us with.
It’s funny, because all teams or athletes fight for glory, yes, but they do it representing their countries; their nations; their people and their history. And this should never be forgotten, especially in times where patriotism seems to be a taboo or something outdated.
The case of Gwen Berry
In the United States, there was a fervent debate regarding Gwen Berry, an African-American athlete and hammer thrower who decided, disrespectfully, to disown the American national anthem and the U.S. flag when she placed third in her category for the U.S. track and field selective championships for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Berry, a self-described activist athlete, said that sport for her means an opportunity to raise awareness of the racial and social struggles being waged in the USA.
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” Berry told the Associated Press. “I’m here to represent those (…) who died to systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.”
According to Berry herself, having the national anthem played when she was on the podium alongside silver medalist Brooke Andersen and gold medalist DeAnna Price was due to an ambush against her.
“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose”, Berry told AP. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
In addition, she also commented that the anthem is of little relevance to her: “They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there(…) But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important. The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
Her words say one thing, but her gestures say another. First, she is an athlete, and she should know better than anyone that the anthem almost always plays when medalists are awarded. Second, Berry had a disrespectful attitude, it wasn’t a protest for murdered black men, as NBA players do (behavior I don’t applaud, by the way), it was a temper tantrum; worthy of a disobedient teenager seeking attention.
Her excuse that she plays sports to make visible the supposed “systemic racism” is irrelevant; you can be an activist, you can even dislike American history, you can want a change for society, but the least you should take care of are the forms. It is not a matter of being patriotic, it is a matter of showing a modicum of gratitude for the country where you were born, developed and will now represent in the most important sporting event on the planet.
If Gwen Berry is not capable of listening to the anthem without showing a gesture of disgust, standing firm and facing the flag, why is she representing the United States, why not give the opportunity to other athletes who may be equally or more talented and who have the hunger to go compete for their country?
It’s not a matter of being patriotic. It’s simply a sense of belonging, gratitude, pride and honor; being an Olympian or a national athlete is so much more than seeking personal glory, but that’s not understood by Gwen Berry.
People are proud of whoever represents them, not just for what they do on the field, whether it’s with a ball, boxing gloves or a hammer; but for what they do off the field. The integrity, the competitive spirit, the values that an athlete exudes are sometimes much more important than his own talent; however, Berry made the effort to disrespect the sacred symbols of his country.
Berry wears America on his chest when he competes. And if he wears America’s name; he also wears its patriotic symbols and its people, whether conservative or progressive, Republican or Democrat, the least one should do is respect all Americans.
Being an anti-racist activist does not give anyone the right to destroy statues, change history or insult the values and symbols of a nation. Gwen Berry, with all due respect as an athlete, should not be representing America. In fact, no athlete, no matter how talented, should represent a country he or she does not respect.