Former Olympic gold medalist Mike Eruzione told Newsmax that hammer thrower Gwen Berry was wrong to turn her back to the American flag as the national anthem played at the U.S. Olympic Trials over the weekend.
"I'm old school – I don't think it's appropriate," 1980 Olympic men’s hockey captain Eruzione told "Wake Up America" host Rob Finnerty on Tuesday. "I think there’s a time and place to be able to voice your problems, your issues, but I think the podium, with the anthem and the flag, [is not it].
"Maybe we should highlight the two young ladies who are standing there with their hand over their heart with their flag in their hand and what they’re standing for."
Berry, who had protested during the anthem in the 2019 Pan American Games, turned her body away from the flag as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played at the trials in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday. She finished third in the event.
Toward the end of the song, Berry took a black T-shirt with the words "Activist Athlete" and put it on her head.
Eruzione said "people clearly have a right to their opinion," but the Olympics and the trials are not the right places to express it.
"You're putting a jersey on that says USA across the front. I think that’s the ultimate honor you can get as an athlete," he said.
"You look at the history of our country, look at the athletes, Let’s go back to [track star] Jesse Owens. Let’s go back to [swimmer] Michael Phelps, [gymnast] Simone Biles, some of the greatest athletes we’ve ever had, yet they’ve stood at that podium being very proud, knowing there were issues out there, knowing that there’s some problems in this country.
"We need to unite the country. I think the way to unite us is stand up there and stand for the flag and the anthem. Maybe that brings people together."
On Monday, the New York Post reported that Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., called for the U.S. Olympic Committee to remove Berry from the team headed to Tokyo for the Summer Games.
"I don’t know if the Olympic Committee can do something like that," Eruzione said. "I don’t know what rights and freedoms the athletes have, if there’s any waivers that they sign. I firmly believe it's not going to be the [last] time. I think we'll probably see [someone] somewhere down the road perform something like this, or do something like this, again.”
Eruzione was a member of the "Miracle on Ice" team that defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union squad en route to winning the gold medal. Although he took the podium alone for the medal ceremony at Lake Placid, New York, Eruzione summoned teammates to join him after the national anthem finished playing.
"I clearly feel the flag and the anthem is the ultimate honor that you can be a part of, especially during the Olympic Games," he said. "When you hear that anthem being played, and you see your flag being risen, there’s no [more] special feeling."
Which is why the podium should not be used to protest, he said.
"I’m sure there are many, many Olympians who feel the way I do," the 66-year-old Eruzione said. "Maybe you need to speak to some of the younger Olympians and not somebody old like me, but again, I took it as an incredible honor.
"My family is a military family. My dad is a Marine, my nephew’s a Marine, my son’s a fireman, my son-in-law's a police officer. I respect the flag, I respect the national anthem. Unfortunately, we're at a time where people don’t feel the same way."
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