Story at a glance
- American Olympian Raven Saunders on Sunday became the first athlete to protest on the medal podium on Sunday.
- “At the end of the day, we understand it’s bigger than us, and it’s bigger than the powers that be,” Saunders said.
- ”We understand that there’s so many people that are looking up to us, that are looking to see if we say something or if we speak up for them,” Saunders added.
American Olympian Raven Saunders on Sunday became the first athlete to protest on the medal podium, when she formed an “X” over her head to symbolize the intersection of oppressed groups.
Saunders, who is Black and gay, performed the gesture — in a seeming violation of International Olympic Comittee (IOC) guidelines prohibiting protests on the medal podium — after taking second in the shot put competition.
IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said Monday the governing body is in “discussions with World Athletics the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee” regarding the Saunders public display, according to The Guardian. Adams reportedly did not specify if any punishment would be levied toward Saunders for her violation of Olympic Policy.
Yet the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said Monday that Saunders’ demonstration did not break any existing rules as it occurred in a period meant for photographs following the formal medal ceremony.
“Per the USOPC’s delegation terms, the USOPC conducted its own review and determined that Raven Saunders’ peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice that happened at the conclusion of the ceremony was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration,” the USOPC’s statement read, per the New York Post.
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“I really think that my generation really don’t care,” Saunders said, referencing the generational differences in views over protests for equality. “At the end of the day, we really don’t care.”
“Shout out to all my black people. Shout out to all my LGBTQ community. Shout out to all my people dealing with mental health,” Saunders continued. “At the end of the day, we understand it’s bigger than us and it’s bigger than the powers that be. We understand that there’s so many people that are looking up to us, that are looking to see if we say something or if we speak up for them.”
Saunders, with her protest, joined the ranks of fellow Olympians who’ve spoken out and taken action regarding heightening mental health awareness — including American gymnast Simone Biles who withdrew from numerous events over concerns for her own well-being.
“It’s OK to be strong,” Saunders said. “And it’s OK to not be strong 100% of the time. It’s okay to be able to need people.”
Fellow track star Gwen Berry, who sparked controversy during Olympic trials when she turned away from the American flag during the national anthem, voiced her support for Saunders, saying Saunders “has been through hell and back.”
“I’m so happy to see her thrive and win. I’ll tell you a little secret, about two months ago she called me on the phone crying,” Berry said, according to The Associated Press. She’s been through a lot. So I’m happy for her.”
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