Text messages obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggest Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart pressured President Sam Olens into barring Kennesaw State’s cheerleaders from the field during the national anthem.
The messages appear to contradict the university’s statement that the cheerleading squad was absent from the field because of a restructuring of the game day schedule, not because of the five cheerleaders who kneeled during the anthem to protest police brutality.
In light of these communications, the Georgia Board of Regents will be reviewing the university’s decision to keep the cheerleaders in the tunnel while the anthem plays.
According to the AJC, Ehrhart — who is the chair of the subcommittee that allocates funding to public universities — appeared to thank Warren in one text message for his role in influencing Olens.
“He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice. Thanks for your patriotism my friend,” Ehrhart wrote.
Warren, who previously told the Marietta Daily Journal he was outraged by the cheerleaders’ demonstration, wrote, “Not letting the cheerleaders come out on the field until after national anthem was one of the recommendations that Earl and I gave him!”
Olens, however, has denied allegations that he was pressured to silence the protests, and maintains that the university’s original explanation is the correct one.
“Following the September 30 football game, the Department of Athletics leadership informed me that they were making a change to the pregame activities, which involved the spirit squad,” he wrote in a statement. “This was the only conversation I had about any changes involving the cheerleaders and mascot. The call I received from Sheriff Warren came after I was notified of the department’s decision.”
The five cheerleaders who kneeled have previously said they were skeptical of the athletic department’s reason for keeping them off the field and expressed their dismay at the newly-discovered communications.
“We are deeply dishearten[ed] by the revelations revealed in these messages,” they said in a joint statement. “We were exercising our 1st amendment rights in the most American way possible. We took a knee for a purpose and we continue to kneel for this cause.”
“These text messages only leave us with more questions on how the university handled this situation,” they continued. “We would hope the university would defend its students from political leaders. To this day, President Olens has not met or requested a meeting with us. We are owed a meeting and to have this matter addressed publicly.”
The response has spurred a number of on and off-campus demonstrations. Olens has said he is willing to meet with the cheerleaders and any other student who is concerned about the matter.
“In hindsight, I regret how the events over the past two weeks have unfolded and admit that the circumstances could have been handled better,” he wrote. “I believe that a university should be a marketplace of ideas, encouraging free expression and open dialogue. To that end, I welcome the opportunity to meet with the cheerleaders and any student who wishes to participate in a discussion about how we can work together to continue to make KSU a university of which we are all proud.”