Letter to the Editor: Athlete and Activist


By Gwendolyn Berry, U.S. Track and Field Olympian and SIU Alum

Editor’s Note: Gwen Berry is an olympian and SIU alumna who was punished for protesting during the olympics. A Daily Egyptian feature on her can be viewed here: One Fist, One Podium, One Large Reprimand: Olympian speaks about her Pan-American protest and the punishment that followed it.

“… they will see that we are men, and men with a determined spirit to go on to victory; no favors, or frowns, or obstacles of any kind are to deter or awe us, until our object be gained… our motto, with of us, should be “onward and onward forever” … until our objective be accomplished. — New York State Convention of Colored Citizens, 1841.

Our past remains current. The same battles fought in 1841 are ever present today.


We need to face facts, the American system remains broken.

Black communities are faced with the same disadvantages we endured over 50 years ago when my brothers John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics.

My life has changed over the last 4 years. I took the opportunity to speak out against the racial inequality that torments me and communities of color on a daily basis.

I was punished for it. A clear message to Blacks in America that we are too familiar with.

It is easy for the individuals to say, “leave personal issues out of sports.” That luxury is afforded to those that will never have racial injustices against them affect their day.

I wished that Botham Jean was afforded that same choice when he was murdered in his home. Not to mention the countless individuals whose names are added to a growing list.


This is my reason for not wavering. I will not shut up and throw. My life encompasses more than just the sport I play.

When I walk off the field, I am still a Black woman in America.

What does it matter if I win competitions or medals?  I can be shot dead due to someone’s fear or misconception of me. So, I stand as I am – an athlete and activist.

My success in sports has shown me that opportunities are forced and so is progress.

This system is functioning as it was intended too and we cannot stand idly by and wait for unwilling change.

The wait is literally killing us.

We do not want a seat at a table that is broken.

We want our people to have access to a life without limitations, fear and oppression. A life that fosters opportunity, equality and genuine support that will echo throughout generations and across all communities.