KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) – Five cheerleaders at a college in Georgia say they’ll kneel in the stadium tunnel when the national anthem is played at Saturday’s homecoming game, moved off field by their university after an earlier protest.
The so-called Kennesaw Five will kneel until the U.S. flag “represents what it should,” Kennesaw State University cheerleader Shlondra Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution .
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” said another cheerleader, Michaelyn Wright.
Officials at the university said the decision to move the cheerleaders off the field before games is one of several to “improve the fan experience,” the Atlanta newspaper reported.
In response to questions from The Associated Press about how the decision was made, Kennesaw State spokeswoman Tammy DeMel said Monday she was looking into the matter.
The cheerleaders said they closely watched a national debate over NFL players kneeling during the anthem, adding they prayed before kneeling before the college football game Sept. 30.
The NFL has been embroiled in controversy over players using the anthem before games to protest. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement last season when he refused to stand during the anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. President Donald Trump and others have lashed out at NFL players for not standing during the anthem.
Protests have spread outside the NFL at times. Last year in Pennsylvania, several cheerleaders at a high school in the community of Coraopolis kneeled during the anthem at a football game attended by several war veterans. The backlash resulted in the school restricting attendance at the school homecoming game to parents of players. And during last year’s football season in Nebraska, six Omaha Central High School cheerleaders took a knee before a game to protest.
Sheriff Neil Warren in Cobb County, where the suburban Atlanta campus is located, called Kennesaw State President Sam Olens after the Sept. 30 protest, and was assured the demonstration wouldn’t happen again, according to a report in The Marietta Daily Journal .
“My wife, Penny, had tears in her eyes, and we were both shocked to see such a lack of respect for our flag, our national anthem and the men and women that serve our nation,” the sheriff, a longtime school booster, told the greater Atlanta newspaper.
He said his Atlanta suburb has lost “sons and daughters” defending the country abroad, adding, “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 sheriff would not comment Monday to The Associated Press, said Glenn Daniel, a spokesman for his office.
Olens was unavailable for comment Monday, DeMel said.
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