PARK CITY, Utah — Should an American Olympian be at the center of attention for the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Pyeongchang Games next year, it would be for only one reason: He or she just won a gold medal.
While NFL players have 16 or more chances to kneel, link arms or otherwise show signs of solidarity this season, an Olympic champion may get only one — a fact that complicates the question of whether to use that moment to make a statement.
“For me, one of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech, and I look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in,” said Olympic champion skier Julia Mancuso, one of many U.S. athletes who were asked Monday about President Donald Trump’s criticism of NFL players who kneel for the anthem. “As athletes who compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I’d like to think it’s a special event.”
John Carlos and Tommie Smith staged one of the most iconic protests in sports history, when they raised their fists during the medals ceremony at the 1968 Olympics. They were sent home immediately by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which spent decades wrestling with how and whether the sprinters should be honored.
The International Olympic Committee has rules against using the games for political statements, though Scott Blackmun of the U.S. Olympic Committee said, “Our stance on this is fairly clear, and we recognize the rights of athletes to express themselves.”
Whether they would, though, is a different matter.
“I definitely think those people are entitled to their opinions and can express them how they feel,” said hockey player Troy Terry. “But you won’t see me taking a knee for the national anthem, especially at an event like the Olympics.”
Gus Kenworthy, an Olympic freestyle skiing silver medalist who revealed to the public two years ago that he is gay, said he supported the NFL players who were protesting.
“I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to say how we feel, speak up for what we believe in,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to use their platform to stand up for what they believe in.”
Members of the U.S. Olympic team are typically invited to the White House, though Kenworthy said he would not attend if asked. As to whether he would kneel or make some statement were he to land on top of the podium next year, he said, “Knowing me, I probably would, but I don’t like to plan those things.”