Kennesaw State allows cheerleaders back on the field after protests

Protesters take the knee in support of KSU cheerleaders -- photo by Sierra Hubbard

Kennesaw State’s cheerleaders will return to the field at the Owls’ next game on Nov. 11.

After gaining national attention, KSU’s president said in a statement Wednesday, Nov. 8, that the football team’s cheerleaders will be allowed back on the field during the national anthem.

In an email sent to KSU students, staff and faculty Wednesday afternoon, President Sam Olens made clear that his personal choice is to stand during the anthem.

“While I choose this action, I do not believe this debate has to be a choice between honoring our veterans and protecting the freedom of speech,” Olens said. “We must be able to do both.”

Here is Olens’ letter in its entirety:

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”Olens letter to KSU community”]

Dubbed the “Kennesaw Five” on social media, five of the team’s cheerleaders first took a knee during the national anthem at a home football game Sept. 30. A week later, the pre-game schedule was rearranged and the cheerleaders were moved into the stadium tunnel while the anthem played.

Below is a timeline of the events leading up to KSU’s reversal on its decision:

Saturday, Sept. 30 — Five KSU cheerleaders kneel as the national anthem is played during a home football game against North Greenville University, confirming on social media that it is a protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

Friday, Oct. 6 — The Marietta Daily Journal publishes an article in which Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren calls the cheerleaders “ill-informed.” He says in the article that he spoke with KSU President Sam Olens, who “assured me that this will not happen again.” (When the Cobb County Courier asked Warren for comment, his office said Warren stood by his comments to the MDJ and had “nothing to add.”)

Saturday, Oct. 7 — At the next home football game, the cheerleaders are no longer on the field while the national anthem is played. Mike DeGeorge, the assistant athletic director for communications and broadcasting, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the new pre-game schedule offers “a better introduction of the mascot and cheerleaders.”

Monday, Oct. 16 — Hundreds of protesters, made mostly of students along with some alumni and faculty, march across campus to support the cheerleaders. They are led by Scrappy the Owl, the football team’s mascot, who shows up without the university’s permission and kneels with the protesters.

Tuesday, Oct. 17 — KSU releases a statement confirming that the student, Kenneth Sturkey, did not follow university policy when he attended the protest in the Scrappy costume. The statement says KSU officials are “reviewing the situation to determine whether action may be warranted.”

Tuesday, Oct. 17 — The AJC publishes an article citing a series of text messages from Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Sheriff Warren that indicate Olens was pressured into taking action against the cheerleaders. In a statement, Ehrhart said those were his private conversations with the sheriff and that he stands by them. “I urge President Olens to stand firm against any student publicly disrespecting our flag at a football game or any college event,” Ehrhart said. “I say that as a private citizen.”

Wednesday, Oct. 18 — The University System of Georgia Board of Regents calls a special meeting and releases a short statement, saying it will conduct “a special review to look into recent allegations raised about athletic processes at Kennesaw State University.”

Thursday, Oct. 19 — More than 100 students gather during the installation celebration for KSU President Sam Olens to continue protesting in support of the cheerleaders.

Saturday, Oct. 21 — Four cheerleaders continue to kneel in the stadium tunnel during the national anthem. A few students protest outside the stadium, and some spectators sit during the anthem with raised fists, though the majority of those in attendance stand.

Wednesday, Nov. 8 — KSU President Sam Olens announces that the cheerleaders will be allowed back on the field at the university’s next home game on Nov. 11.