A series of text messages between Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, show the two urged Kennesaw State University President Sam Olens to keep the school’s cheerleaders off the field while the national anthem is played.
The texts were made public the week Olens, who took over as KSU’s president last November, is set to be formally sworn in during a ceremony held on campus Thursday at 10 a.m.
KSU spokesperson Tiffany Capuano said last week the Athletics Department’s decision to keep its cheerleaders in the tunnel ahead of football games had nothing to do with five of them taking a knee during the anthem last month to protest racial inequality and police brutality. But texts sent between the sheriff and the legislator appear to show them bragging about convincing Olens to keep them off the field.
“I don’t know if you have talked to Sam lately but I just got off the telephone with him (about) the unpatriotic cheerleaders kneeling during the national anthem,” Warren wrote to Ehrhart. “He assured me that the cheerleaders will not be on the field … Thanks for always standing up too (sic) these liberal that hate the USA.”
Ehrhart replied: “Yes we spoke last night. He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice. Thanks for your patriotism my friend.”
The KSU president’s time at the helm has been shrouded in controversy: his tenure began with students and faculty members protesting his presidency because of his conservative views and stance on LGBT rights.
He was thrust back into the spotlight earlier this month after KSU’s cheerleading squad was noticeably kept off the field the week after several took a knee during the anthem, bringing the protest to Cobb County.
Kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest was brought to national attention by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season as a way to draw attention to police brutality. The topic was reignited this year after drawing the ire of President Donald Trump, who called on NFL owners to fire any player who refuses to stand for the anthem.
Shlondra Young, one of the five KSU cheerleaders who took a knee before the school’s Sept. 30 game against North Greenville, attended a protest held by about 200 students on campus Monday in support of her squad.
She said they knew nothing about the gameday changes until a practice held two days after their decision to kneel during the anthem.
“We were scared, but we’re confident now that we made the right decision,” she said. “We wanted to highlight inequality, social injustice and police brutality.”
Young said she and the other four cheerleaders will continue to kneel ahead of football games, even if they must to do it from the tunnel.
The kneeling controversy may be deflating enthusiasm for Olens’ investiture ceremony on Thursday: An email sent to KSU’s college deans from the director of university events last week urged them get more faculty members and students to attend the event.
“At this time we only have 74 faculty in attendance,” the email reads. “We have 6-plus more colleges than we did 10-plus years ago for our last Investiture Ceremony and a lot less faculty so far participating in the ceremony.”
The email urges the deans to encourage faculty members who aren’t teaching to attend. Those who are teaching were urged to bring their classes to the ceremony.
Olens’ investiture will be held at 10 a.m. in the Convocation Center followed by a celebration on the Campus Green at noon.