Some of the Kennesaw State University cheerleaders link arms in the north end zone of KSU’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium during the national anthem prior to the start of the football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. This marked the cheerleaders’ return to the field in the wake of some taking a knee during the national anthem in previous games. Photo: Daniel Varnado / Special to the AJC
Photo: Daniel Varnado / Special to the AJC
Photo: Daniel Varnado / Special to the AJC

KSU cheerleaders link arms for national anthem

In the wake of weeks of criticism, Kennesaw State University cheerleaders did not take the knee during the national anthem at Saturday’s home game.

However, some of the cheerleaders instead linked arms while they were standing on the field for the first time after being relegated to a tunnel for the national anthem for recent games.

KSU president Sam Olens announced Wednesday he was reinstituting the prior practice of allowing cheerleaders on the football field during the national anthem.

Kennesaw State has been embroiled in controversy since five African-American cheerleaders took a knee during the anthem before the football team’s Sept. 30 game and the university’s decision days later to keep all cheerleaders off the field during the anthem, which some felt violated the students’ free speech rights.

The kneel-down is part of an effort, which began last year with some pro football players, to bring awareness to police misconduct and racial inequality. KSU football players are not on the field before the anthem.

KSU has said the change to the pre-game program in October had nothing to do with the decision of some cheerleaders to kneel during the anthem. However, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren boasted in text messages first obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to state Rep. Earl Ehrhart that they had persuaded Olens to find a way to keep cheerleaders from continuing such protests. The Georgia Board of Regents is conducting a special review of how KSU responded to the cheerleaders’ actions.

Olens, the former Georgia attorney general and Cobb County commission chairman, was criticized by some as caving to pressure from longtime, politically powerful friends who opposed the cheerleaders’ actions.

Some Kennesaw State cheerleaders link arms while on the field during the national anthem at the Veterans Day game on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Some of the cheerleaders had come under fire for taking a knee during the national anthem at recent home games, and recently the cheerleaders had to be in a tunnel during the national anthem. 
Photo: Daniel Varnado / Special to the AJC

Since KSU’s change, the cheerleaders who’ve knelt during the anthem had continued to do so in a tunnel under the stadium. Before Saturday’s Veterans Day game, the cheerleaders had said they planned to kneel on the field during the anthem.

A national debate over the appropriateness of the kneel-down during the national anthem began in September after President Donald Trump said the NFL should fire players who kneel. KSU administrators have received numerous telephone calls and emails from residents voicing their support and disapproval of the cheerleaders’ actions.

Some students have held protests on campus in recent weeks, demonstrating against the change and other academic issues, such as Olens’ recent decision to remove the phrase “social justice” from some faculty job descriptions.

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