U.S. national anthem-snubber and Olympian Gwen Berry secured a sponsorship with Puma through her partnership with an anti-police activist group called Color of Change. Puma has sponsored Berry since last September through a somewhat unique arrangement.
Over the weekend, Berry qualified to represent the United States at the Olympics after she placed third in the hammer throw trials. While standing on stage to receive her third place award, Berry refused to salute the anthem and instead turned her back on the flag and held up a shirt that read “Activist Athlete” when the anthem started playing. The sight became a spectacle for press photographers.
Berry’s relationship with the Puma brand, which was negotiated by Color of Change is unique among athletes. Fox News described Color of Change as being “unapologetically in favor of defunding the police.”
“Policing is a violent institution that must end. We imagine a country where there is enough money to educate our children, care for our sick and feed those who are financially unstable. Defunding the police allows for this vision,” Color of Change President Rashad Robinson said in June after the Minneapolis City Council pledged to “dismantle” its police force.
The left-wing group also has active petitions in favor of defunding the police at both the local and national levels.
“We’re proud to sponsor [Berry], to have negotiated a sponsorship with [Puma] and to continue to push corporations to support Black athletes who speak out for our communities. Grateful for Gwen’s leadership today and every day,” Color of Change posted to Twitter.
“Thank you Color of Change for always standing with me,” Berry replied.
The Washington Post reports that Puma’s sponsorship of Berry was unique in that “Rather than paying Berry to endorse and promote its brand, Color of Change cajoled and pressured companies to support her so Berry could maintain a platform from which to advocate. The partnership proved pivotal … the apparel company Puma announced it signed Berry to a contract that will pay her $15,000, provide her equipment and apparel and place her in a campaign titled ‘She Moves Us.'”
Puma marketing executive Adam Petrick told the paper that the company has “the responsibility to support those calling for changes.”
Berry told the Post that representing the United States has been an issue for her because she believes the country is systemically racist against Black people.
“For me, it’s always been something that’s been underlyingly uncomfortable, knowing that I’m rocking this big ‘USA’ across my chest when everything about America is to demean and to keep Black people at the bottom of the totem pole,” she said. “It has always, always, always been something I have been very uncomfortable with. I’m glad I’m able to say that without being punished or without being misunderstood.
“I try to compartmentalize it. I try to say, ‘The USA can mean a lot of things.’ I try to give it my own meaning, just to say that I do deserve to represent a country that my people have built uncompensated, have worked for and have survived throughout,” Berry continued. “I just have to give myself a different meaning of it, regardless of how uncomfortable I am with what it is sometimes.”