The Tokyo Olympics haven’t even started yet, but we already have a clear Gold-medal favourite in the Attention-Seeking Brat race. I had a**umed that Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka might win this, after her fit of indignation at the French Open tournament in which she was outraged by the thought journalists might ask her any ne*ative questions.
As Boris Becker, who won Wimbledon aged just 17, six years younger than Osaka, said this week: ‘Is that really pressure? Isn’t it pressure when you don’t have food on the table? When you’ve got to feed your family and you don’t have a job? When you have a life-changing in*ury? Isn’t that more pre**ure? You’re 23, you’re healthy, you’re wealthy, your family is good. Where is the f***ing pressure?’
Of course, having bla*ed her ridiculous behaviour on the grounds of mental health – the go-to excuse for so many high-profile people these days when they do something dumb – Osaka’s made a miraculous recovery from her self-induced trauma in time to take part in her country’s biggest ever sporting event.
I confidently predict Ms Osaka will be talking very happily to the media should she win Gold in front of her home fans, because the enormous increased fame and adulation it will bring her will translate into yet more millions of dollars for the world’s highest-earning female athlete.
Indeed, she has already started the self-promotion tour by being this month’s Japan Vogue cover star, in which the interviewer kindly never asked her any ne*ative questions….
But I fe-ar narcissist Naomi’s only going to end up with silver in the Attention-Seeking Brat competition, for we now have a comfortable new front-runner in the form of American Hammer thrower Gwen Berry.
I’ve seen some outrageous antics from athletes in my time, but Ms Berry’s narcissistic tour de force at the US Olympics trials in Oregon on Saturday takes the proverbial biscuit.
She was on the podium, having come third, when the American national anthem began playing.
Normally, this would be a moment of great pride and tearful joy for any Olympian. But not Ms Berry.Oh no.
This was clearly one of the worst moments of her life. As the two other competitors who had b-ea-ten her turned respectfully to face the American flag and placed their hands on their hearts, furious Berry turned the other way, placed her hands an*rily on her hips, and then held up a T-shirt proclaiming the words ‘ATHLETE ACTIVIST’ before putting it over her head.
She preened, she s*lked, she si*hed, she frowned, and she eye-rolled in one of the most pathetic tantrums I’ve ever seen from anyone supposedly representing their country.
Berry claimed she’d been ‘set up’ by organizers who knew she would hate standing on the podium as the Star Spangled Banner played.
‘I felt like they did it on purpose,’ she moaned. Really, Gwen? You think the people running a huge and very complex logistical operation like the US Olympic trials during a global pan-dem-ic had nothing better to do than secretly plot to annoy you, the third best female performer at the Hammer?
God, the mind-blowing dismissive arrogance of this statement. No offence, but to borrow a line from Top Gun, methinks your ego’s writing cheques your body can’t cash.
The truth is that the anthem has been played at around the same time, 5.30pm, on each day of the trials. The Hammer presentation just happened to coincide it with it yesterday.
‘They had enough opportunities to play the national anthem before we got up there,’ Berry continued. ‘I was thinking about what I should do. Eventually I stayed there, and I swayed, I put my shirt over my head. It was real disr-esp-ectful.’
Sorry, WHAT? It was ‘disr-esp-ectful’ of the Olympic trials organisers to play the national anthem as three athletes stood on a podium? Does she have any idea what happens at the actual Olympics?
Let me help you, Ms Berry: they play the national anthem of each event’s winning competitor as they stand with the 2nd and 3rd placed athletes on a podium.
‘I didn’t really want to be up there,’ she added. ‘I was hot, I was ready to take my pictures and get into some shade.’
Again, the self-absorption is breath-taking, and so insulting to her two fellow athletes standing with her at what they considered to be one of the greatest moments of their lives.
Berry’s snarky attitude prompts the question: what exactly is going to happen when she gets to Tokyo?
If she wins, are we going to see a repeat of her petulance in front of a billion viewers?
What message would that send to the world? I know what it would tell me, as a Brit who loves America: that, regardless of what she says to the contrary, she hates the United States.
I’ve no problem with sports people making respectful gestures to register their protest about something that matters to them. They have big platforms and in America, they live in a democracy that protects free speech with the First Amendment. But as NFL star Colin Kaepernick discovered the ha*d way, there’s a difference between being openly disr-esp-ectful (sitting out the anthem) and being resp-ectf-ul (kneeling).
And what Gwen Berry did on Sunday was just brazenly rude. She may as well have flip*ed the bird.
Her behaviour spa*k-ed understandable outrage. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a man who lost his eye in an explosion while serving as a US Navy Seal in Afghanistan, so knows what it means to represent your country, said: ‘She should be removed from the team. The entire point of being on the Olympic team is to represent the United States of America. That should be the bear minimum requirement, that you believe in the country you’re repr-esenting.’
Supporters of Berry countered the criticism by saying there’s a rank hypocrisy in the fury from many Republicans who didn’t castigate the rioters at Capitol Hill on January 6. To which I say, yes – there is. But it’s perfectly possibly to think those rioters were violent criminals who committed an insurrection against their country’s democracy AND to think that Gwen Berry’s sho*kingly i!sulti!g response to the American national anthem being played was a disgracefully disr-espectful way to represent her country.
As the furore grew over her behaviour, she doubled down. ‘I never said I hated this country!’ she tweeted. ‘People try to put words in my mouth but they can’t. That’s why I speak out. I LOVE MY PEOPLE. These comments really show that: 1.) people in America rally patriotism over basic morality. 2.) Even after the murder of George Floyd and so many others; the commercials, statements, and phony sentiments regarding bl*** lives were just a hoax.’
Hmmmm. Let’s take a beat here, Ms Berry. If you don’t hate your country, then you have a very strange way of showing your love for it. And there’s a wider point to all this. Sport is supposed to be a unifier, isn’t it? As Nelson Mandela said: ‘Sport can create hope where once there was only de*pair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.’
He was a man who understood very clearly the need to bring racially divided people together, not drag them even further apart. Gwen Berry seems to think the opposite and seems to have forgotten the whole point of the Olympics.
‘I don’t need to do anything sport-wise,” she said about her trip to Tokyo. ‘What I need to do is speak for my community, to represent my community and to help my community. Because that’s more important than sports.’
Is it? Well, if your work as an activist is more important than sports, Ms Berry, then why not give up the Hammer-throwing and concentrate on that? The Olympics are supposed to be about the world’s greatest athletes competing to see who’s best at their sport – not who’s the best activist.
After years of incendiary racial disunity in America, and in the middle of a pandemic that’s caused so much pain and heartache for millions of people, I imagine most Americans are looking to the Games as a much-needed few weeks of escapism in which they can come together to cheer on their athletes under the common umbrella of being proud Americans.
The very last thing they need or want is an American athlete using the Olympic Games as a chance to diss their country in front of the entire world.
I don’t believe in cancel culture, so won’t be joining those like Dan Crenshaw who say Gwen Berry should be dropped from the US Olympic team for expressing herself in a way I dislike.
She is entitled to her opinion.
But I would simply ask her this: if you genuinely feel such shame in America’s anthem and flag that you feel the need to throw such a pathetic tantrum, why would you WANT to represent your country?
Surely the braver, more principled thing to do is withdraw, and let someone replace you who feels pride, not shame, in representing America?