KSU change won’t stop their kneeling protest, cheerleaders say

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KSU change won’t stop their kneeling protest, cheerleaders say

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Cory Hancock
A handful of cheerleaders take a knee during the national anthem prior to the matchup between Kennesaw State and North Greenville on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (Special to AJC/by Cory Hancock)

They’re going to continue to speak out by kneeling down.

Five Kennesaw State University cheerleaders who knelt on the football field during the national anthem at a recent game said Tuesday they’ll continue their silent protest in a somewhat different fashion, since a new campus policy prevents them from taking such action on the gridiron.

The students said in a group interview Tuesday they’ll continue to get on one knee during the anthem, while they’re in the stadium hallway.

“Somebody has to take a stand,” said second-year student Taylor McIver.

KSU no longer allows the cheerleaders on the field during the anthem. KSU officials have said the change was part of an effort to give the 45 cheerleaders and band a better introduction when entering the field. KSU administrators said the policy change had been in the works before the first time the five students got on a knee when the Owls played on Sept. 30.

Asked if they believe the university’s explanation for the change, cheerleader Michaelyn Wright responded “I don’t, not for one second.”

Controversy and debate have continued for more than a year over some National Football League players — beginning with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — getting on one knee during the anthem to raise awareness about police brutality and racial inequality across the nation. President Donald Trump has blasted players who kneel, calling it disrespectful. Several players have continued to kneel. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to teams Tuesday saying he believes players should stand during the anthem.

The cheerleaders are now part of that national conversation, fielding numerous interview requests this week and facing some criticism.

The five cheerleaders, all African-American, said they had been concerned about the issues raised by the NFL players and discussed kneeling during the anthem, as a Georgia Tech dancer did during a game last season. They stressed their actions were not meant as an attack on the flag. They talked and prayed about it with each other and then their families. Some family members fully supported their decision. Others were concerned.

The first time they did it, on Sept. 30, the young women said they were scared. No team has hired Kaepernick to play this season. What would happen to them?

The fear subsided when some classmates, faculty and players praised their actions. The cheerleaders felt emboldened.

Others, though, were not pleased.

The most negative comment the cheerleaders said they heard during that game came from a spectator when they knelt out of respect for a player who was hurt.

“That’s the only time you should be kneeling,” they said someone yelled.

Late last week, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren was quoted in a newspaper article saying he and his wife were outraged by the cheerleaders’ actions.

“[T]o witness these ill-informed students acting this way clearly tells me KSU needs to get busy educating these students on more than just passing their classes. They need to learn all that the flag truly represents,” Warren was quoted as saying in the Marietta Daily Journal.

Warren also said Olens assured him “this would not happen again.” Some cheerleaders said they were worried about repercussions. No actions have been taken against them. A sheriff’s spokesman declined comment Tuesday.

Last Saturday, the five cheerleaders knelt in the stadium hallway when the anthem played.

“Our passion is definitely stronger than our fear,” said KSU junior Shlondra Young.

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