Four of the “Kennesaw Five” cheerleaders took a knee during a Sept. 30 home game, and kneeled again during their Homecoming game on Oct. 21 during the National Anthem. Across the state, Georgia State cheerleaders said they would never take a knee because they feel as if there are other ways to protest.
After the KSU cheerleaders’ motions of protest, Kennesaw State University (KSU) changed its anthem procedures to keep the cheerleaders inside the tunnel during that time.
KSU officials said that telling the cheerleaders to stay in the tunnel during the national anthem was “part of an effort to give the 45 cheerleaders and band a better introduction when entering the field.”
“I don’t, not for one second.” KSU cheerleader Michaelyn Wright, said when asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution if she believed the explanation the university gave. A later AJC article revealed that Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and State Rep. Earl Ehrhart had been texting KSU President Sam Olens about the cheerleaders staying off the field.
But despite the nationwide mayhem that sparked with the ‘Take a Knee’ movement, athletes back at Georgia state say they don’t feel pressured to protest.
“I do, but I don’t feel pressured to take part in the ‘Take a Knee’ protest. I do because of course I am a black female and I do recognize the racial injustices that [are] going on in the world,” Cheerleader Brittney Hammond said.
Hammond added that while athletes have chosen this movement to raise awareness, she thinks there are better ways to do so.
“Of course I’m not saying this is a bad way, but I don’t necessarily feel pressured to take a knee just because I know I can help in some other way,” she said.
Hammond said she’s found herself in a conflicted position before, but was kept on track by coaches and the department who reminded the teams about the importance of ‘who’s watching.’
“I know last year when the presidential election happened some of the cheerleaders were talking about not putting our hands over our hearts, and keep them down by our sides, but of course it was reiterated to us like you have to think who’s going to be in your audience and who’s going to see that,” Hammond said.
But officials and the audience don’t scare Georgia State football player Tykirius Arnold, who said he would take a knee on the field to stand for police brutality and injustice.
“I wouldn’t be afraid of what school officials might do. I think the coaches would have our backs enough where we wouldn’t face any consequences. They tell us that they support us,” he said. “I wouldn’t be worried about the audience, but I would be more worried about the negative feedback from the audience.”
But Arnold said he hasn’t had a chance to do so, as the football team is not on the field during the National Anthem.
Ashtyn Maddox, Georgia State’s cheer team captain, said she feels backed by the university and that their coach, who has brought up the KSU controversy, supports their beliefs and decisions.
“He told us that he supports us and whatever we believe in, but he’s just really concerned for our safety as cheerleaders,” she said.
Maddox said that despite the lack of support from KSU officials, she would be interested to see her own university’s reaction, coming with such a diverse student body.
“The main support I would want from Georgia State is first of all safety,” she said. “Second, we’re more diverse than Kennesaw and I don’t even know how they’d respond to that because now we have more minorities. So to be honest I don’t even know what they could do or would do.”
Hammond, Arnold, and Maddox all feel that if they did choose to take a knee and got punished for it, that would be oppression.
“Because you’re basically telling people, ‘hey, shut up’. But really people are taking a knee because it started with the Black Lives Matter Movement, and what that whole thing is about is making sure black people and minorities have the same basic rights and they are treated fairly,” Maddox said. “If I can’t say this or stand for this without you getting offended, then how am I going to state my opinion?”