*This article has been updated since its original posting
The Kennesaw State cheerleading squad was not present on the field for the national anthem before Saturday’s football game after five of its members took a knee during the anthem at the game on Sept. 30.
Mike DeGeorge, assistant athletic director for communications and broadcasting, said the squad did not participate in the anthem before Saturday’s game against Texas Southern because of a restructuring of the gameday schedule, not because of the prior week’s protest.
According to DeGeorge, the Department of Athletics wanted to give the cheerleaders and the team’s mascot, Scrappy, a more formal introduction between the anthem and the players running onto the field.
He said this decision is similar to other game day changes — like new security measures at the gates — made after interim Athletic Director Matt Griffin was appointed.
When asked about the timing of the change, KSU President Sam Olens said Monday that he “acknowledged the timing,” but gave no further comment.
Since last year, athletic teams at all levels have been adopting NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s practice of kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality against people of color. Attention to the protest was rekindled last month when President Donald Trump made a statement saying that athletes should be fired if they refuse to stand.
Although there was no significant reaction from the crowd when the demonstration occurred on Sept. 30, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren told the Marietta Daily Journal on Friday that he was “shocked,” by the display.
“Cobb County has lost sons and daughters at home and on foreign lands while protecting America,” Warren told the MDJ. “And to 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.”
The Cobb County Sheriff’s office declined to comment on the issue Monday, saying, “Thank you for the opportunity to be included in your story. We will not be participating in an article for your publication.”
According to the MDJ, Warren said Olens assured him “this will not happen again.” Olens confirmed to The Sentinel that the conversation did take place, but would not elaborate on the reported promise.
“The university believes that people should stand for the national anthem and support our country,” he said. “The university firmly also supports the First Amendment. I get very uncomfortable with this discussion of one over the other. It’s both. We need to support our country and we need to support the First Amendment.”
New York-based writer and activist Shaun King posted a video of the protest on his social media accounts, saying the cheerleaders’ families told him “local law enforcement has harassed them at their [homes].”
Davante Lewis, who said that one of the cheerleaders who took a knee is his sister, said that no such harassment has taken place. Lewis added that the cheerleaders feel threatened because of comments the sheriff made to the MDJ, and not because of any direct contact with law enforcement.
Lewis said law enforcement responded to a call at one of the cheerleader’s homes weeks prior to the demonstration, and that this may have been the source of King’s claim.
The Kennesaw Police Department responded to the allegations on its Facebook page, saying it does not “have jurisdiction over the University and its events. Nor do we involve ourselves in political opinions.”
“Kennesaw is a very diverse community, and our policy is to serve without bias, discrimination, or politics,” the post read. “The Kennesaw Police Department is not involved in any harassment of cheerleaders or any other person.”
Shlondra Young, a junior member of the cheerleading squad, was among those who took a knee. Young did not respond to requests for comment, but the following message was posted on her Facebook page:
“Today, I kneel for equality, I kneel for social injustice and I kneel for those who unjustly lost their lives and are no longer here to kneel for themselves. I kneel in a city where a confederate culture still exists among some and issues such as this are often placed on the back burner. I kneel in a city where I am a minority. But most importantly, I kneel for unity in a country that needs it the most right now.”
None of the other cheerleaders responded to requests for comment, but messages thanking supporters were posted on several of their social media accounts
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Cory Hancock and Nick O’Neill contributed to this article.