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Gwen Berry is an “Activist Athlete.” Controversy is brewing over her choice to protest the National Anthem and her subsequent tweet, and the decision has me a bit torn. I have to remind myself that even this type of expression is to be tolerated in our free society.
The story goes that Berry, who finished third in the women’s hammer throw, and subsequently qualifying for the US Women’s Olympic team, took Umbridge with when the National Anthem would be played. The Anthem, per reports, was scheduled to be played five minutes before she was to be awarded, but did not play until she is out there.
This action, in turn, has caused a stir of people blasting her while others defend her actions. For me, however, I take a sanguine tone on the matter. My principles tell me that what she is doing is, while disagreeable, a fundamental expression of her freedom. She is as free to do something that I don’t like, as much as I am free to do what she may dislike. Part of having individual liberties is that everyone has individual liberties, and we must tolerate that. If life becomes nothing more than a struggle for power, then everyone becomes less free.
When Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about President Biden’s thoughts on Berry’s choice to protest in the fashion that she did, she responded, “I know (Biden) is incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem and all that it represents,” Psaki said. “He would also say that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we, as a country, haven’t lived up to our highest ideals, and means respecting the right of people granted in the Constitution to peacefully protest.” While I disagree with much of what the President has to say, this is one time where I agree.
Liberty is a fleeting thing. We as a culture are so used to it that it defines our worldview. It is the normal by which we assume that everyone else on the planet operates. That is far from the truth, as much of the world lives under oppressive regimes and restrictions on their lives, ability to speak freely, ability to practice their faith, to associate with others, to travel, and so on.
Here, we have the ability to burn the symbols of our government on television, and it is considered protected free speech. It’s a reminder of how different our nation is, and the blessings that we have simply by being born here. Below is a clip from The West Wing in which magicians Penn & Teller set fire to an American flag.
As I said, I don’t like Berry’s choice. It speaks to a large amount of privilege, to use the vernacular of the neo-progressive left. She has the ability to devote her time and resources to Olympic training, and being an activist. She faces fewer struggles than other people of color. She was invited to the members-only New York Athletic Club, which, according to Business Insider, costs $8,500 to join, and more that $3,000 a year for a membership. Her abilities allowed her to focus on her training, and garner sponsorships, giving her a net worth between one and five million dollars, per Player’s Bio. Again, her athletic gifts have given her many opportunities that others have not, and she has, to her credit, used those to great success.
I wish that Ms. Berry would count her blessings, but I can’t know what other battles she finds herself fighting. I wish that we would all be able to find common ground, and common values that would help bind us together as Americans. It pains me to see how fractured and Balkanized our country has become, and how much more it will break if nothing changes. I just have to remind myself that it’s okay to express yourself in ways that I don’t like, and keep trying my best to find that common ground.