After winning silver in the women’s shot put on Sunday morning in Japan, American Raven Saunders had a message that she shared with NBC Olympics reporter Lewis Johnson.
“I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m fighting for a lot more people. I want to give a shoutout to all of the LGBTQ community. Everybody that is dealing with mental health issues. Everybody who is Black. I’m giving a shoutout to everybody.”
"I'm not just fighting for myself, I'm fighting for a lot more people."
— On Her Turf (@OnHerTurf) August 1, 2021
After receiving her silver medal on the medal podium later on Sunday, she continued the conversation she began earlier in the day.
Instead of posing with her medal and bouquet of flowers, she crossed her arms over her head on the podium to represent “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet,” she told the Associated Press.
Saunders was not the first athlete to advocate for human rights during the Olympics, though she was the first to do so on the medal podium.
In the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC updated Rule 50 to allow athletes additional ways to use their voices, but with limitations. Some athletes have used these new “approved” arenas for demonstration, like the Great Britain, Australian, and U.S. women’s soccer teams, which have taken a knee before matches.
“It’s an opportunity for us to continue to use our voices and use our platforms to talk about the things that affect all of us intimately in different ways,” Megan Rapinoe told the Associated Press.
Luciana Alvarado, an 18-year-old gymnast from Costa Rica, took a creative approach. During her floor routine, Alvarado worked in a kneel and raised fist. Alvarado is the first Costa Rican gymnast to qualify for the Olympics and took her international moment to honor the struggle of Black and brown people “because we’re all the same. We’re all beautiful and amazing,” she told the Associated Press.
But according to IOC guidelines, “expressions are not permitted” during medal ceremonies. It is unclear if or how Saunders’ podium demonstration will be handled (and by whom). In December, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced that it will “not sanction Team USA athletes for peacefully and respectfully demonstrating in support of racial and social justice.”
That news came just over a year after the USOPC put American hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry on probation after she raised a fist on the podium at the 2019 Pan American Games. And it is possible that Berry, who qualified for the women’s hammer throw final, will demonstrate again.
Before leaving for Tokyo, she shared a message with her fellow Olympians via UNINTERRUPTED.
“We must remember the biggest challenges we face are outside of our sports and inside of our communities,” Berry said. “The worldwide protests which followed the murder of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd raised awareness of ongoing police brutality and racial injustice.”
One last letter to my fellow Olympians before I embark on this journey to Tokyo. #SincerelyYours
— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) July 26, 2021
Berry went on to say that police brutality and the wealth gap are worse now than when U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal podium during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
In her video, Berry called for a full reversal of Rule 50, which she says is “on the wrong side of history.” She expressed her belief that athletes are important vessels for change, especially when united, and reminded her fellow Olympians that they were born to break barriers, no matter who sets them.
Berry will compete in the hammer throw final on Tuesday, August 3 at 7:35 pm ET. You can stream the event here.
Follow Erica L. Ayala on Twitter @Elindsay08
During the Olympics, you can also catch up on all of the major storylines in women’s sports by watching “On Her Turf @ The Olympics,” a 30-minute show that will stream for free on Peacock. Hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, MJ Acosta-Ruiz, and Lolo Jones, the show kicks off on Saturday, July 24, and will stream every day of the Games (Monday-Saturday at 7pm ET and Sundays at 6pm ET).