Shot-putter Raven Saunders, who won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, defended her decision to raise her arms in an “X” above her head during the medal ceremony, saying she did so in recognition of “all people who are oppressed.”
The move was the most open display of protest during the Games thus far, despite a ban on such signs by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, Saunders celebrated her decision, and her win, as a momentous occasion for queer athletes and those who have overcome mental health struggles.
“I feel amazing because I know I’m about to inspire so many people,” Saunders told reporters, per NBC News. “I’m about to inspire so many young girls, so many young boys, so many LGBTQ people, so many people that have battled suicide. So many people that have almost given up. Shoot, hopefully, the family of those that actually have lost somebody, man. It’s not, it’s not just about me.”
Saunders, 25, who goes by the nickname “Hulk,” has been open about her struggles with depression and a fierce advocate for LGBTQ rights and recognition. One of the record-breaking number of openly LGBTQ Olympians at the Tokyo Games, she echoed those sentiments in comments to the media shortly after she was awarded the medal.
“Shout out to all my Black people, shout out to all my LBGTQ community, shout out to everybody dealing with mental health,” Saunders said. “Because at the end of the day, we understand that it’s bigger than us, and it’s bigger than the powers that be.”
Saunders later told The Associated Press that her ultimate goal was to be herself and never apologize for it, adding that she hoped “to show younger people that no matter how many boxes they try to fit you in, you can be you and you can accept it.”
“Look at me now,” she said, “I’m poppin’.”
Although the IOC has banned protests on the podiums, it has relaxed restrictions amid opposition from athletes and social justice groups, allowing medalists to make gestures on the field and during press conferences as long as they don’t disrupt any events or are offensive to competitors. Those who break the rules are subject to sanctions.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee have its own rules that do not penalize athletes for such gestures, as long as they don’t express hate.
The IOC said it was looking into Saunders’s gesture. It’s unclear if the committee will take any action against her.
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