Cheerleaders who touched off anthem uproar at Kennesaw State regain chance to protest

The “Kennesaw Five” – cheerleaders who were banished from the football field at Kennesaw State during the playing of the national anthem after kneeling during the song in late September – will be back in front of fans starting Saturday.

School president Sam Olens addressed the simmering controversy this week when he put out a letter to the community that said in part, “While I believe there are more effective ways to initiate an exchange of ideas on issues of national concern, the right to exercise one’s Freedom of Speech under the First Amendment must be protected.”

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Oct 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; The Atlanta Hawks lock arms during the national anthem before the game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 10, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets players stand with arms locked during the National Anthem before the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) locks arms with teammates during the national anthem before a game against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 11: The Philadelphia 76ers stand for the National Anthem during their Pre Season game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 11, 2017 in Uniondale, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10: A close up shot of the Los Angeles Lakers standing for the National Anthem before a preseason game against the Utah Jazz on October 10, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 6: The Utah Jazz honor the National Anthem before the game against the Phoenix Suns on October 6, 2017 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: (left to right) Andrew Bogut, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brook Lopez and Stephen Zimmerman of Los Angeles Lakers lock arms during the national anthem before the start of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on September 30, 2017 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 18: The Phoenix Mercury and the Washington Mystics stand for a moment of silence for the National Anthem before the game on August 18, 2017 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 16: The Minnesota Lynx and the Seattle Storm stand for a moment of silence for the National Anthem before the game on August 16, 2017 at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: The Phoenix Mercury stand and kneel for the national anthem before the game against the New York Liberty during Round Two of the 2016 WNBA Playoffs on September 24, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 21: The Indiana Fever kneel during the national anthem before the game against the Phoenix Mercury during Round One of the 2016 WNBA Playoffs on September 21, 2016 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 10: DeMar DeRozan #10, K.J. MacDaniels #32 and Malcolm Miller #13 of the Toronto Raptors interlock arms during the singing of the national anthems prior to the first half of an NBA preseason game against the Detroit Pistons at Air Canada Centre on October 10, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Yet leading up to Saturday’s home game, there are still plenty of raw nerves, and an unsettled debate about Scrappy the Owl, the school’s mascot.

Olens initially said the decision to remove the cheerleaders was planned before the protest, but local news reports found text messages from state representative Earl Ehrhart and Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren that suggested intense pressure on Olens to make the change.

The involvement of a highly placed lawmaker and a highly placed law enforcement official turned this into a national story. And it produced more anger on campus. Senior Jeffrey Wallace, who is known as hip-hop artist Jaye Newton, stood up at a concert in front of Olens’ office in mid-October and rapped, “Tell me how I can go to a college so diverse/Yet they take my First Amendment and throw it in a hearse.” He was greeted with roars of approval.

As for the reasons behind the protest, cheerleader Shlondra Young told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We kneel for equality. We kneel to highlight social injustice and to highlight police brutality and kneel in honor for those who unjustly lost their lives and for those who could not kneel for themselves. We kneel in a city where a Confederate culture still exists amongst some and issues like this are placed on the back burner.”

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FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the New England Patriots kneel during the National Anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the New England Patriots kneel on the sidelines during the National Anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 24: New England Patriots players take a knee during the national anthem before the start of a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 24, 2017. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 24: New England Patriots players take a knee during the national anthem before the start of a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 24, 2017. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the New England Patriots kneel on the sidelines as the National Anthem is played before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 24: Head coach Bill Belichick looks on as members of the New England Patriots kneel on the sidelines as the National Anthem is played before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the New England Patriots kneel on the sidelines as the National Anthem is played before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Members of the New England Patriots kneel for the national anthem before the start of the game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and head coach Bill Belichick (third from left) stand during the national anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
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Newton told Yahoo Sports he felt 40 to 45 percent of the campus agreed with the protest, including some faculty. “Professors at our school do not like our president right now,” he said.

There was even a wave of drama when a student in the school mascot uniform kneeled during a rally. “As a student, sure,” Ehrhart told the Marietta Daily Journal. “But with respect to utilizing the school’s mascot, that’s inappropriate.”

An email to the office of Rep. Ehrhart was not immediately returned, and a representative from Olens’ office declined comment.

Will the cheerleaders kneel again, on Veterans Day weekend? One cheerleader told the Marietta Daily Journal that the group would take a knee. Newton isn’t so sure.

“Cheerleaders might be fearful,” he said. “I don’t feel there will be another protest. A lot of people are going [to the game] to see what’s going to happen, but I feel like they’re scared to take the knee again because of repercussions.”

Newton said the mandate of the protesters is: stay peaceful.

“We stress non-violent protest,” he said. “We have really been adamant. They [opponents of the protests] have their First Amendment right just like we have ours. It’s not right to say our viewpoint is the only viewpoint. We will continue to push peaceful protest.”

There might be more attention paid to the cheerleaders than the players on this football Saturday. And that goes for the cheerleaders as well as the mascot, although there might be some real unity there.

“Everybody still loves Scrappy,” Newton said. “People didn’t agree when he took a knee, but at the end of the day, no one is saying ‘Boycott Scrappy.’ ”

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