Team USA Olympic shot putter Raven Saunders is making waves all across the internet, and while many are loving her proud self-confidence and bold statements, others aren’t so happy.
After winning a silver medal, Saunders made an “X” gesture over her head with her arms, a move that is now being investigated by the International Olympic Committee. But she’s got both the internet, and the US Olympic Committee on her side.
Saunders has been a viral star this Olympics, with her colorful hair, candid interviews, and excellent performance. But she’s also resonating with fans by opening up about the struggles she’s faced as a Black, mentally ill queer woman.
Saunders won the silver medal in the women’s shot put this weekend. On the medal podium, she made a gesture, a large x with her arms crossed over her head.
After she made the gesture, Saunders explained that it was for “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet. I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m fighting for a lot more people,” she said.
The silver medalist continued: “I want to give a shout out to all the LGBTQ community, everybody who is dealing with mental health issues, everybody who is Black. I’m giving a shout out to everybody.”
Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee isn’t so sure about her message, and will be investigating the gesture as a potential breach of medial podium protocol. The IOC has a rule banning protests on the podium.
"We're in contact with US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and with World Athletics," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said on Monday. "I don't want to say what those next steps would be until we fully understand what is going on. We don't want to pre-empt anything."
Adams said that they respect athletes’ views and expression, but that those expressions should be off the field, and in places like press conferences and on social media.
"One thing we have noted is we did a survey with 3,500 athletes,” he added, “all those who answered wanted to protect the field of play. It would be good if everyone could respect the views of athletes."
But if the IOC comes for Saunders’ medal, she won’t give it up easily. “Let them try and take this medal,” she tweeted, “I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim.”
She’s also got the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee on her side. They spoke out in support of Saunders, calling her gesture a “peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice that happened at the conclusion of the ceremony” in a statement and saying it “was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration.”
GLAAD agrees. In a statement, Barbara Simon, head of news and campaigns for the organization said that Saunders, along with trans Olympians Quinn and Laurel Hubbard, is “not just making Olympic history, they are using their platforms and spotlights to speak up for inclusion, to support LGBTQ poeple and lift up LGBTQ youth. They are showing how LGBTQ people can be themselves and achieve their dreams with pride and dignity.”