Hammer thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden have each been given a 12-month probation for protesting against various forms of injustice in the U.S. at the 2019 Pan American Games earlier this month in Lima, Peru.
Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, issued formal reprimands to the U.S. athletes, who used their platforms to stand in solidarity with those speaking out on social injustice issues, such as gun control, racism, sexism and the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Imboden kneeled and Berry raised a fist the following day, in silent and peaceful protests as the U.S. national anthem played over the Pan Am medals stand at the games.
In letters sent to Berry and Imboden on Tuesday, Hirshland wrote that while the athletes’ determination to be active citizens is “admirable,” their protests violated Team USA rules that prohibit political protests, according to copies of the letters sent to HuffPost.
“The goal of a Games that are free from political speech is to focus our collective energy on the athletes’ performances, and the international unity and harmony each Games seek to advance,” the letters read.
Hirshland warned that Berry and Imboden could “face more serious sanctions for any additional breach of our code of conduct than might otherwise be levied for an athlete in good standing.”
In a statement last week, the committee said Imboden could be penalized for his protest due to the USOPC’s terms of eligibility, the New York Times reported.
“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan-American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature,” committee spokesman Mark Jones said in the statement, according to the Times. “In this case, Race didn’t adhere to the commitment he made to the organizing committee and the USOPC.”
The committee issued the same statement about Berry at the time, per the news report.
The USOPC will work with the Athletes’ Advisory Council and the National Governing Bodies Council to explicitly define “what the consequences will be for members of Team USA who protest at future Games,” Hirshland added in the Tuesday letters.
Both Berry and Imboden will be eligible to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics, Jones confirmed in an email to HuffPost on Wednesday.
Imboden, who is ranked first in the U.S. according to USA Fencing, released a statement via Twitter on Aug. 9 following his protest at the Pan Am Games. He said his pride in representing Team USA was “cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart.”
The Olympian cited “racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrations” and President Donald Trump’s dangerous rhetoric as examples of reasons why he protested.
Imboden told CNN’s Don Lemon days later that he was inspired by Colin Kaepernick, who famously kneeled during the national anthem at NFL games in 2016 to protest racial injustice. Imboden also recognized other athletes in history who have used their platforms to spark change, including Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith.
“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” the Olympic gold medalist said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”
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