‘Purposely hidden’: Cheerleaders to protest anthem in tunnel

Five Kennesaw State University cheerleaders on Sept. 30, 2017, take a knee during the national anthem prior to a college football game against North Greenville, in Kennesaw, Ga. (Cory Hancock/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — Five cheerleaders at a college in Georgia are vowing to kneel in the stadium tunnel when the national anthem is played at Saturday’s homecoming game, moved off the field by their university after an earlier protest.

The so-called Kennesaw Five will kneel outside the view of fans in the tunnel of the 8,300-seat Fifth Third Bank Stadium, cheerleader Shlondra Young said in an interview Monday. Young said she believes they are being “purposely hidden” from public view when the Kennesaw State Owls host Gardner-Webb University of North Carolina.

“I feel as though it was an attempt to silence us,” she said. “But even though they are moving us, we will not be silenced.”

The cheerleaders said they closely watched a national debate over NFL players kneeling during the anthem, adding they prayed before kneeling before a college game Sept. 30.

The decision to move the cheerleaders was made by the school’s athletic department, which meets after each game “to determine how best to enhance the game day atmosphere,” school spokeswoman Tammy DeMel said in a statement Monday to The Associated Press. It made no mention of the anthem protest.

“Some of the other changes have included painting the KS logo at midfield for the first time, processes to help expedite fan entry, and more loud speakers by the student section,” the statement added.

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 suburban 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, the college president, was unavailable for comment Monday, DeMel said.

On the Kennesaw campus, students rallied Monday in support of the five cheerleaders.

There has been some negative reaction, but it is outweighed by the support they’ve gained, said Young, 20.

“We try not to focus on the negative,” said another of the five cheerleaders, 19-year-old Tommia Dean.

The cheerleaders said there was fear and worry ahead of their decision to kneel during the anthem at the September game. One of them, 19-year-old Kennedy Town said she worried how fans would react. But in the end, she said, she overcame that with her beliefs.

“My passion is stronger than my fear,” she said.