KENNESAW, Ga. – Kennesaw State University will allow cheerleaders to return to football field.
Controversy arose after the cheerleaders knelt during the National Anthem prior to the start of the team's football game against North Greenville University on Sept. 30. After that, the university said that the cheerleaders would not be permitted to take the field until after the national anthem is played.
On Wednesday, the university said it was reversing its policy.
“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,” Kennesaw State University President Samuel Olens said in a statement.
"After much reflection, I have decided that Kennesaw State’s next home game on Nov. 11, the pre-game program will be restored to its original format, with the cheerleaders taking the field before the singing of the National Anthem. I will stand during the National Anthem to honor the women and men who have served in our nation’s armed forces. While I choose this action, I do not believe that this debate has to be a choice between honoring our veterans and protecting the freedom of speech. We must be able to do both,” Olens said in a statement.
"It is my hope that the engagement with students that has begun will produce a constructive dialogue that leads to a greater recognition of and respect for all opinions," he said.
While the policy may have been overturned, the University System of Georgia confirmed it would be conducting a special review of how Kennesaw State handled the situation.
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Davante Lewis, an older brother of one of the cheerleaders involved in the protest, issued a statement saying:
“This announcement is a victory for justice and social progress. However, it is interesting to see that President Olens had a change of heart a week before the University System of Georgia- Board of Regents Meeting and three days before the Military Appreciation game. The Kennesaw 5 should have never been removed from the field in the first place. This reversal is an admission that Kennesaw State was violating their right to free speech. President Olens has always contented that the Athletics Department made this change. If he is changing the policy now, why did he approve it in the first place? The timing seems very political and leaves more questions to be answered. While we welcome this news, it’s sad he sent his Chief of Staff to inform them of the change. He has written letters and statements, but still hasn’t met or personally addressed the cheerleaders.”
The team is scheduled to play Charleston Southern at home this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.