Gwen Berry, “The Star Spangled Banner” and Free Speech in Sport

Carl J. Asszony

“The anthem does not speak for me. He never did.

These are the words of Gwen Berry, an Olympic track and field athlete, who turned her back on her as the United States’ national anthem was played at the awards ceremony at the Olympic Trials on June 26. Berry was third in the hammer throw. While the other winners quietly held their hands on their hearts to the nation, Berry refused to do so and even covered his head with a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “athlete activist”.

Berry claims that the “Star Spangled Banner” is racist and disrespectful to black Americans.

She explained, “If you know your story, the third paragraph (stanza) is about slaves in America, our blood being slaughtered and piled (?) All over the floor. It’s obvious. There is no question. ”

Gwen Berry, left, turns away from the American flag during the national anthem during the United States Olympic track and field team trials last month.

Here is the star-spangled banner verse Berry said she found offensive:

“No refuge could save the mercenary and the slave

From the terror of theft or the darkness of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph makes waves

O’er the land of the free and the house of the brave. “

If Berry had studied history a little more closely, she would have discovered that the racism in this stanza is not so obvious. His interpretation was debunked in 2016 by Mark Clague, professor of music history, American culture, African and African American studies, and entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. Clague is considered the primary authority on the “Starry Banner”.

Clague argues that the term “recruiting” referred to mercenaries hired by British forces and that the term “slaves” meant runaway slaves recruited by the British with promises of freedom.

The professor also believes that the poem honors the black and white defenders of Fort McHenry. For example, there was William Williams (Frederick Hall), a runaway slave who was allowed to join the United States Army and who was at the Battle of Fort McHenry. It was there that he lost his leg in battle and died a few months later. Charles Ball, another runaway slave who could have joined the British in gaining his freedom, instead fought with the United States Navy in the War of 1812. He encouraged other escaped slaves to fight for the United States in place to join the British forces.

“I never said I hated the country”:Gwen Berry responds to criticism of her flag protest

Other historians also believe that Francis Scott Key, in his poem “The Defense of Ft. McHenry”, just used the words “hiring” and “slaves” as a rhetorical device to describe those of the Royal Army and the United States. Royal Navy pushed back by American forces.

Carl Asszony

Yeonmi Park, a human rights activist who escaped North Korea’s harsh regime, criticized Berry for turning her back on the national anthem. Park believes that if Berry had done this in North Korea, she would be jailed or executed. Park added: “The fact that she (Berry) complains about this country, the most tolerant country – she doesn’t really understand the story.”

Berry’s father Michael, an Iraq war veteran, praised his daughter for her actions, saying, “For her doing this on the podium is more American than anything, because that’s what our country is about.” is founded: freedom of expression, freedom of expression. “

That may be true, but what Berry and others don’t seem to understand is this: it is not their freedom of speech that is at issue – it is the issue of neutrality and the separation of the sports arena from politics.

For me, this question remains: if Berry has such contempt for the national anthem, how can she represent the United States at the Olympics?

Carl J. Asszony, a longtime New Jersey veterans advocate, can be contacted at [email protected]


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