Two Americans who won gold medals at the Pan American Games and knelt or raised a fist during the national anthem could face punishment because they didn’t adhere to the terms they committed to, the governing body said.
“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature,” Mark Jones, the vice president of communications for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee [USOPC], told ESPN in a statement on Aug. 11.
“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 honor their commitment. Our leadership are reviewing what consequences may result.”
Race Imboden, 26, knelt as the national anthem played during the medal ceremony on Friday after his team won gold in the team foil event. His teammates remained standing while the Brazilian team saluted and the Canadian team stood straight.
“We must call for change. This week I am honored to represent Team USA at the Pan Am Games, taking home Gold and Bronze. My pride, however, has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
We must call for change.
This week I am honored to represent Team USA at the Pan Am Games, taking home Gold and Bronze. My pride however has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart. Racism, Gun Control, mistreatment of immigrants, pic.twitter.com/deCOKaHQI9
— Race Imboden (@Race_Imboden) August 10, 2019
“Racism, Gun Control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list. I chose to sacrifie [sic] my moment today at the top of the podium to call attention to issues that I believe need to be addressed. I encourage others to please use your platforms for empowerment and change.”
Imboden knelt during the 2017 Fencing World Cup as well, though it appears he didn’t face any punishment.
Gwen Berry won the gold in the hammer throw and raised a fist during the national anthem on Saturday.
“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,” Berry told a USA Today columnist.
“It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”
Kneeling during the national anthem was started by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 to protest alleged racial injustice in the United States.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media at the time. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
A number of NFL players joined Kaepernick’s protest, leading to declining ratings and widespread backlash. The trend has nearly completely died out in the football league but has popped up in other venues, including recently in the U.S. women’s national soccer team.