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Protests over George Floyd’s death spur U.S. Olympic leaders to consider change

U.S. fencer Race Imboden takes a knee on the podium during a medal ceremony at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games.
(Leonardo Fernandez / Getty Images)

After hearing from hundreds of athletes, the head of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee has issued a public apology and vowed to reexamine her organization’s “rules and systems.”

USOPC Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland cited global protests over George Floyd’s death while in police custody in saying she will establish an “athlete-led group” to discuss change. Racism and the right to protest during medal ceremonies will be among numerous issues addressed.

“For decades you have spoken about equality and unity and sacrificed your moment on the podium to call for change,” Hirshland wrote in an open letter. “And we have failed to listen and tolerated racism and inequality. I am sorry.”

Hammer thrower Gwen Berry is demanding an apology for protesting racial injustice and the USOPC responds by saying it will hold a town hall.

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At the Pan American Games last summer, hammer thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden protested social injustice — she raised a fist, he knelt — while receiving their medals.

The USOPC placed both on probation and the International Olympic Committee issued stricter guidelines on acceptable podium behavior, prohibiting signs, armbands and gestures, among other things.

But Hirshland is sounding a different tone after holding a town hall meeting last week. In her letter, she commended athletes for confronting racial injustice.

“It is time to match your courage,” she wrote. “To listen and understand. To do the work.”


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