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Pan American Games Become Site Of Silent Protests For Team USA Athletes

Athletes risked doing what's right in the fight for social justice.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

This weekend we paid tribute to Jesse Owens winning four Gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany despite the evil and racism the world witnessed through Hitler’s reign in the country.

So despite claims that sports and politics shouldn’t/don’t mix, the two have always held an intimate relationship, one that they have maintained throughout time.

This past weekend, their relationship was at the forefront once again at the Pan American Games in Peru, as two American athletes staged new silent protests at the medal podium over social injustices in America.

On Saturday, after winning gold, hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem.

Berry was unapologetic about her decision.

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” said Berry to USA TODAY Sports.

“It’s too important to not say something,” continued the gold medal winner. “Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

It’s a message that was repeated the next day by Gold and Bronze medal fencer Race Imboden, who took a knee on the podium after receiving the team gold medal in fencing.

“This week I am honored to represent Team USA at the Pan Am Games, taking home Gold and Bronze.” wrote Boden on Instagam. “My pride however has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart. Racism, lack of Gun Control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list. I chose to sacrifice my moment today at the top of the podium to call attention to issues that I believe need to be addressed and changes. I encourage others to please use your platforms for empowerment and change.”

Boden, as you can tell, is white, yet recognized the need to make a statement and the importance of doing it on a worldwide stage.

The actions of these two athletes come on the heels of the horrific mass shootings in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the last few weeks. They also speak in direct response to the current environment fostered by Trump and his followers, which provides fodder to the racism and racists plaguing this country.

These types of decisions are not made lightly, evidenced by the blackballing and banishment Smith and Carlos experienced for decades after their silent protest in 1968. Gwen and Berry, like all athletes competing in these games, sign agreements not to “make remarks or release propaganda of political, religious or racial nature, or any other kind” during the Games, and their actions are now being reviewed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) to see if any consequences will follow.

“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature,” said the USOPC in a statement.

“In these cases, the athletes didn’t adhere to the commitment they made to the organizing committee and the USOPC. We respect their rights to express their viewpoints, but we are disappointed that they chose not to honour their commitment.”

While the “shut up and dribble” fans are probably itching to spew their venom at these athletes, with some already taking to Twitter to do so, these athletes and their supporters could care less and are ready to receive the heat in order to fight for what’s right.

“I love representing my country. America is a great country. It’s the best country in the world,” said Berry. “However, what we are standing for right now, it is complete and utter — it’s extreme injustice.”

And what better way to stand against injustice than to do it at a place where it’s not “accepted” and honor the commitment we learn at an early age to do what’s right.

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