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Gwen Berry, disciplined for raising fist at Pan-Am Games, says USOPC statement on inequality insincere

As it turns out, the hard part for U.S. Olympian Gwen Berry hasn't started yet.

The raised fist at the Pan-Am Games last summer, the public shaming she received from Olympic authorities afterward and the wondering what might happen if she were to use her platform to protest racial injustice at the now-postponed Tokyo Games -- all that seems easy now.

"I feel like, right now, my body and my mind, it's like I'm going to war,'' Berry told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. "I'm trying so hard to protect something that is near and dear to me.''

Berry is the black hammer thrower -- and the mother of a 16-year-old son -- who captured headlines last year when she used her turn on the gold-medal podium at the Pan-Am Games to raise her fist as a show of her frustration with America's treatment of black people.

Her gesture, to say nothing of the punishment that came afterward, is being seen in a new light these days in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a tragedy that has sparked protests across America while compelling hundreds of commissioners, leagues and players in the sports world to respond.

To Berry, the statement from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee -- that the federation "stands with those who demand equality'' -- was galling. It came less than a year after the USOPC put her on a 12-month probation for her gesture at the Pan-Am Games. The letter CEO Sarah Hirshland sent Berry then said that though she respected Berry's perspective, "I disagree with the moment and manner in which you chose to express your views.''

"I want an apology letter .. mailed .. just like you and the IOC MAILED ME WHEN YOU PUT ME ON PROBATION,'' Berry tweeted shortly after the USOPC sent its letter this week. Later, she amended her demand and said she wanted a public apology.

Hirshland and Berry talked on the phone Wednesday night, but no details were immediately available. The episode comes against the backdrop of the IOC statement earlier this year that reiterated rules forbidding the types of protests Berry made.

In her AP interview, she said she was disappointed with the USOPC: "I feel like for them to post something like that without first apologizing ... it takes away their sincerity to the situation at hand,'' Berry said.

Yet in Berry's view, the back-and-forth with the USOPC is the least of the problems facing her and her country as the U.S. heads into the second week of protests in reaction to Floyd's death. A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Floyd, a black man who was handcuffed as the officer kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes.

Berry said she heard a lot of people's feelings while joining recent protests in Houston. She said the endless stream of stories of police brutality leveled against black people in America keeps her in a constant state of worry about her son and her brothers.

"I have a child who is a black man, who does not look like a child,'' she said. "I have siblings who are black men who do not look like children. They're big. They can be intimidating. I'm in fear for their lives right now. I feel like I'm fighting for them right now.''

She said she was inspired by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem during the 2016 NFL season to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

"My hero,'' Berry said. "A person who looks like me, stands for what I stand for and believes in what I believe in. ... He's a leader.''

Asked if she was hopeful that the protests could be an impetus for change, Berry said she looks at it as a "tipping point."

"I definitely don't think this is the thing that's going to bring America together,'' she said. "The people who run the system, they're not going to just let this one situation be the tipping point. They're going to fight until they can't fight anymore. So we will have a lot of fights to do. This is the start. This is a key moment.''

When Berry raised her fist during "The Star-Spangled Banner'' last summer, her message was not all that different from the one sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos delivered at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, when they raised their fists on the podium. They became internationally known for their fight to shed light on their country's history of social injustice.

Last year, Berry didn't have any follow-up plans in mind. Now she does. Her probation will be over by the summer of 2021, the new time frame for the Tokyo Games.

"I'm prepared to take my platform to the next level. I really don't know how I will go about that because I know just speaking out and posting is not enough,'' Berry said. "Being more involved and helping my message reach bigger influencers, I think that will help me a lot.''