Kennesaw State President Wanted to Meet With Cheerleaders

October 20, 2017

Text messages from Kennesaw State University officials indicate that the president of the institution wanted to meet with the five cheerleaders who knelt during the national anthem before a football game, although that meeting never happened.

The texts were released Thursday in response to a public records request filed by a cheerleader’s brother. The University System of Georgia is looking into the how the university handled the situation.

On Sept. 30, a group of cheerleaders knelt in protest of police brutality and racism during the national anthem before a home football game. The next week, the pregame ceremonies were changed, and the cheerleaders were no longer on the field during the anthem. Critics, and previous public records requests, have painted a picture of political backlash for the protest. The university has maintained that the timing of changes was coincidental and the changes were related to improving the fan experience, not the protest. None of the records released Thursday directly contradicted the university’s version of events, but they did raise questions among critics.

“Not good. Can you help set up a [meeting] with them and me this week,” Sam Olens, university president, texted K. C. White, the vice president for student affairs, the weekend the cheerleaders knelt. Olens expressed concern about the fallout of the situation with the media and in town.

White texted university spokeswoman Tammy DeMel saying that she didn’t think it was a good idea, and she was under the impression that Olens didn’t want them kneeling “while representing KSU.”

“Well, when we spoke yesterday he seemed to say that it was a First Amendment right and it is tricky -- so I’m surprised but not really that his message would be that,” DeMel responded. “Wonder if he got a call from someone else?”

She expressed concern that, because the cheerleaders in question were all black, “that might open a larger campus issue if you tell them not to kneel.”

A meeting between Olens and the cheerleaders never happened.

The document dump also revealed multiple university officials discussing an initial set of talking points, one draft of which warned protesting cheerleaders and student athletes that if donors left because of the kneeling, “that affects the university’s ability to provide need-based scholarships and support to your fellow students.”

That phrase was later edited out.

After the decision to change the pregame ceremonies was made, however, a new set of talking points was developed, explaining to an inquiring cheerleader that the decision was made coincidentally and not in relation to the protest.

The records do not contradict the university’s stance that Olens was not involved with the decision, and that it was not political. Still, the cheerleaders maintained their position of wanting a meeting with Olens.

“This open-records request, in conjunction with [The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s] request, have left us with more questions than answers. We are encouraged that the Board of Regents is opening a review,” the cheerleaders said in a statement. “We are open to meeting with President Olens to directly ask him these questions.”

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