WASHINGTON — Utah Rep. Burgess Owens is among a group of Republicans in Congress threatening to dissolve or replace the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee board of directors if it doesn't discipline athletes who engage in "anti-American" protests.
In a letter to USOPC board Chairwoman Susanne Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland, the lawmakers say they have serious concerns about "radical, anti-American" statements recently made by U.S. Olympic athletes.
The letter, led by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asks the USOPC to enforce International Olympic Committee rules prohibiting any political, religious, or racial demonstrations or propaganda" from Olympic sites, venues or other areas.
It goes on to "remind" Lyons and Hirshland that Congress has the power under the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act, passed last October, to dissolve the USOPC board of directors, terminate recognition of the USOPC as a national governing body of the U.S. Olympic teams, and replace it with a body that can "adequately represent America and its athletes on the world stage."
The letter says that if the USOPC is unable or unwilling to "defend America from slander," it should be replaced by a more capable committee.
"If the USOPC continues to fail to discipline athletes who dishonor the United States and our flag, as required by its own charter, we would support a joint resolution to dissolve the USOPC's board of governors and find a replacement governing body for the U.S. Olympic team," according to the letter signed by 16 GOP House members.
At the women's U.S. Olympic track trials in June, third-place finisher Gwen Berry turned away from the U.S. flag during the national anthem before holding a T-shirt over her head that read "activist athlete." The U.S. hammer thrower later explained she believes that the national anthem is "disrespectful" and pledged to "not stand or acknowledge" it.
"Such anti-American statements divide the U.S. domestically and embarrass us abroad," according to the letter.
Berry, who will make her second Olympic appearance in Tokyo, told Time last week, "I just don't respect something that doesn't stand for all people. Especially minorities in America. I feel like we know the story. Blacks get the worst treatment here."
Owens took issue with Berry's actions.
"She's going to end up being a very small footnote because people are going to forget her real soon," he told Fox News last month. "We're going to recognize and look at this as a moment our president turned his back on our country because they're not standing up against these cultural Marxists."
Owens said Berry should not represent the U.S. if she's not going to appreciate it. Black Americans, he said, made sacrifices for the life Berry is living today.
"What she's doing right now is an affront to every single generation of Black Americans who stood, fought for this country and believed in meritocracy and proved themselves to be worthy to be called Americans," he said.
The Olympics are about patriotism and proudly representing our nation. We need to stand up to these cultural Marxists who want to tear down America instead of building her up. https://t.co/ZluJH0EZTz— Burgess Owens (@BurgessOwens) July 8, 2021
In the letter, the GOP lawmakers also cited a now-deleted Facebook post by BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe saying, "My goal is to win the Olympics so I can burn a US flag on the podium. This is what they focus on during a pandemic. Hurting trans children."
Wolfe, a transgender woman qualified as an alternate to represent the U.S. in Tokyo, told Fox News the post doesn't mean that she doesn't care about her home country.
"One of the reasons why I work so hard to represent the United States in international competition is to show the world that this country has morals and values, that it's not all of the bad things that we're known for. I take a stand against fascism because I care about this country and I'm not going to let it fall into the hands of fascists after so many people have fought and sacrificed to prevent fascism from taking hold abroad," she said.
The IOC this month relaxed its rule forbidding athletes from any protests but now allows them to make gestures on the field, provided they do so without disruption and with respect for fellow competitors.
There are still, however, possible sanctions for protesting on the medals stand.
"The podium and the medal ceremonies are not made ... for a political or other demonstration," IOC President Thomas Bach told the Financial Times.
"They are made to honor the athletes and the medal winners for sporting achievement and not for their private (views)," he said. "The mission is to have the entire world together at one place and competing peacefully with each other. This you would never manage if the Games (became) divisive."