U.S. Olympian Gwen Berry alleges USA Track and Field Foundation punished her for protest

Henry Bushnell
·4-min read
USA's Gwen Berry competes in the Women's Hammer Throw final at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Khalifa International stadium in Doha on September 28, 2019. (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
Gwen Berry at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Qatar. (Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)

The USA Track & Field Foundation announced Wednesday that it will pay grants to 100 elite American athletes. Gwen Berry, an Olympic hammer thrower, isn’t one of them. And she has decided, after keeping quiet for almost a year, that she no longer can.

The USATF Foundation, Berry says, has essentially punished her for protesting “extreme injustice” after winning gold at the Pan-American Games last summer.

“I know for sure that I wasn't chosen [for a grant] because of my stance on the podium,” Berry told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. “Because I was told that.”

Last August, Berry raised her fist during a Pan-Ams medal ceremony. A USATF Foundation official, she says, called her a couple days later, “and told me I better not do it again, or else I'll lose funding.”

Around that same time, the Foundation released lists of 2019 grant recipients. The previous year, Berry had received $35,000, as one of 25 U.S. track and field stars in the top tier. In 2019, days after winning gold, she no longer was in that top tier. She was among a second tier of grantees, each of whom received $4,000.

Berry also lost sponsors. In an interview last month, she declined to name the organizations who dropped her, in hopes of future support. After not receiving a 2020 grant, she decided: “I feel like I have to call them out.”

The USATF Foundation, she points out, said in a statement last month, 10 days after George Floyd’s death, that it “support[s]” protests of racial injustice. The Blackstone Group – whose CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, funds the USATFF grants – also released a statement, saying it was “deeply disturbed by the awful acts of racial injustice,” and “has zero tolerance for racism of any kind.”

Yet when the USATFF released its list of 100 grantees on Wednesday – 25 in the top tier, 75 in the second tier – the U.S. track and field athlete who has protested racial injustice most prominently wasn’t on it.

“It's ridiculous,” Berry says. “This was not a coincidence.” And she has what she feels is proof.

Fellow thrower DeAnna Price, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, received a top-tier $20,000 grant. Four other hammer throwers – one woman, three men – received $5,000 grants. Those four are ranked 11th, 10th, 11th and 32nd in the world, respectively.

Berry closed 2019 at No. 3 in Track & Field News’ world rankings. She is currently ranked 6th by World Athletics. She is ranked second among American women.

The USATF Foundation – an independent organization unaffiliated with USA Track & Field, the sport’s national governing body – said in a statement that “Gwen’s allegation that her stance on the podium at the Pan Am Games adversely affected our grant-making decisions in 2020 is inaccurate.” It said that it had offered Berry a separate $5,000 grant, scheduled to be announced Thursday, but that Berry had declined.

“It’s not about aggregate levels of support,” Berry said in a tweet. “It’s about hypocrisy.”

“They can keep the money.”

“This is exactly why athletes don’t speak out about important issues,” Berry tweeted on Wednesday. “If they do, they are not supported.

“You say you support the [Black Lives Matter] movement yet you DEFUND the very athlete who took [a] stand when it was not popular. FOH.”

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