Hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who turned away from the American flag as the national anthem played as she stood on a podium during the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, said she felt blindsided by the timing of the song.
Berry placed third Saturday at the trials in Eugene, Oregon, earning a trip to the Tokyo Olympics next month.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" was played once a night at the trials, and it began as Berry was on the podium after receiving her bronze medal. The first- and second-place finishers, DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen, stood on the top two steps of the podium.
“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the timing of the anthem, according to The Associated Press. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
As the song played, Berry turned to face the stands, away from the flag, and eventually draped a black T-shirt that read “Activist, Athlete,” over her head.
Berry said she thought the song was going to play before the athletes took to the podium.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry said, according to the AP. “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.”
According to Reuters, Berry, 31, said there were opportunities to play the anthem before they were on the podium.
"They had enough opportunities to play the national anthem before we got up there. ... I was thinking about what I should do,” she said. “Eventually I stayed there and I swayed, I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful.”
"It really wasn't a message. I didn't really want to be up there,” she said, according to Reuters. “Like I said, it was a setup. I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade."
USA Track and Field spokeswoman Susan Hazzard said in a statement that the national anthem was scheduled to play at 5:20 p.m. Saturday.
“We didn’t wait until the athletes were on the podium for the Hammer Throw awards, the national anthem is played every day according to a previously published schedule,” she said.
“We’re thrilled with the women’s hammer throw team that selected themselves for the Games,” Hazzard said in the statement.
The national anthem started at 5:25 p.m. Saturday, according to the AP.
Berry, who also went to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, raised her fist on the podium after winning the hammer throw at the 2019 Pan-American Games in Peru, which led to a one-year probation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The committee has since apologized to Berry.
After Saturday's incident, Berry said her mission is to raise awareness for social justice issues.
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” Berry said, according to the AP. “I’m here to represent those ... who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.”
In March, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said athletes competing in the trials can protest for social justice, including holding up a fist or kneeling at the starting line or on the podium during the national anthem.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the right to peacefully protest when asked about Berry's actions Monday.
Psaki said while President Joe Biden has "great respect for the anthem, and all that it represents," he also would say pride in our country "means recognizing there are moments where we as a country haven't lived up to our highest ideals, and it means respecting the right of people, granted to them in the Constitution, to peacefully protest."
Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas on Monday called for Berry to be "removed from the team" and said on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" the "bare minimum requirement" should be that "you believe in the country you're representing."
Berry responded to some of the criticism in a post on Twitter, saying: "I never said I hated this country! People try to put words in my mouth but they can’t. That’s why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE."