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Olens says he will meet with KSU cheerleaders who knelt in protest

Several updates occurred today in the story about the five Kennesaw State University cheerleaders who knelt during the national anthem in silent protest of police misconduct and racial inequality, including a comment finally from KSU President Sam Olens.

Following their actions on Sept. 30, KSU kept the cheerleaders off the field during the anthem, a decision that President Sam Olens attributed to the university’s athletic department. That explanation is now in doubt after an Open Records request by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed two Cobb political leaders claiming credit for pushing Olens to do so.

With the news today that the Board of Regents will examine what happened, Olens broke his silence, releasing this statement:

Following the September 30 football game, the Department of Athletics leadership informed me that they were making a change to the pregame activities, which involved the spirit squad. This was the only conversation I had about any changes involving the cheerleaders and mascot. The call I received from Sheriff Warren came after I was notified of the department’s decision.

In hindsight, I regret how the events over the past two weeks have unfolded and admit that the circumstances could have been handled better. I believe that a university should be a marketplace of ideas, encouraging free expression and open dialogue. To that end, I welcome the opportunity to meet with the cheerleaders and any student who wishes to participate in a discussion about how we can work together to continue to make KSU a university of which we are all proud.”

AJC higher education reporter Eric Stirgus reports:

“The University System of Georgia is conducting a special review to look into recent allegations raised about athletic processes at Kennesaw State University,” the board said in a one-sentence statement after a special called meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart boasted in a series of text messages about pressuring KSU president Sam Olens into keeping the school’s cheerleaders off the field during the national anthem after they knelt during the anthem for the first time during the Sept. 30 game. Olens previously said in a written response to questions from the AJC that the decision to keep all cheerleaders off the field during the anthem was made by the university’s athletics department.

And the cheerleaders themselves issued a statement today after seeing the AJC news story about the texts between Warren and Ehrhart:

We are deeply disheartened by the revelations revealed in these messages. We were exercising our 1st amendment rights in the most American way possible. We took a knee for a purpose and we continue to kneel for this cause. These text messages only leave us with more questions on how the university handled this situation. We would hope the university would defend its students from political leaders. To this day, President Olens has not met or requested a meeting with us. We are owed a meeting and to have this matter addressed publicly."

Olens' investiture as president of KSU, a job he began a year ago, is scheduled for tomorrow at 10 a.m. The Marietta Daily Journal reports KSU is concerned about turnout:

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.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.