When hammer thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden protested against social injustice at the Pan American Games last summer — she raised a fist on the podium, he kneeled — U.S. officials quickly placed them on probation.
Now, amid nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd, Berry is demanding an apology and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee says it will hold a town hall for its athletes to talk about racial issues.
“We are reading and hearing the messages you, and so many citizens across this nation, are sharing and we understand you are struggling with anger, frustration and uncertainty,” USOPC Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland wrote in an open letter.
Berry, who is black, and Imboden, who is white, both said their protests in Lima, Peru, last August were meant to raise awareness of inequities back in the United States. Their actions violated a code of conduct they had signed and both received 12 months’ probation from the USOPC.
The International Olympic Committee followed up in January, issuing guidelines that prohibit signs, armbands, kneeling and hand gestures during medal ceremonies.
That announcement drew immediate pushback from around the sports world, with critics noting that the updated rules would have outlawed an iconic moment at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, where American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists on the podium.
On Tuesday, Berry took to social media, calling for the IOC guidelines to be repealed and asking the USOPC to address her suspension. Fellow athletes quickly joined in.
“Now would be the time to apologize and lift the probation at the very least,” Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon tweeted.
The USOPC town hall is scheduled for Friday. Hirshland said: “The USOPC stands with those who demand equality and we want to work in pursuit of that goal.”