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Investigation launched into KSU cheerleader controversy; Olens apologizes

Documents obtained by 11Alive through the Open Records Act show Cobb County’s sheriff and a powerful state lawmaker put pressure on Kennesaw State University administrators to bar protesting cheerleaders from being on the football field during the national anthem.

The University System of Georgia is conducting a special review to look into recent allegations raised about athletic processes at Kennesaw State University.

The investigation stems from a recent incident where five KSU cheerleaders knelt during the national anthem prior to the KSU-North Greenville University football game. Since the Sept. 30 incident, KSU administrators have barred the cheerleaders from taking the field until after the anthem has been played, explaining that the change was unrelated to the protest and was planned prior to September 30..

On Wednesday, KSU President Sam Olens apologized for how the university has handled the controversy.

"I regret how the events over the past two weeks have unfolded and admit that the circumstances could have been handled better," Olens said in a statement. "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.”

Documents obtained by 11Alive through the Open Records Act Cobb County show that immediately after the protest that Saturday, Sheriff Neil Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) put pressure on administrators to bar the cheerleaders from further protests on the field.

Warren and Ehrhart were both outraged over the incident, as indicated in their correspondences. Ehrhart is chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on higher education, the group that determines KSU’s annual funding.

According to the records, both men texted each other that they were “furious,” and Ehrhart criticized Olens to Warren, saying Olens "is coddling” the cheerleaders who protested.

“Hell yes!” Warren texted. “Let me know what I can do to help you stop this BS on taxpayer-funded college campuses.”

Olens has been under intense criticism from all sides, including from critics like Warren and Ehrhart, and from demonstrators who accuse Olens of censoring the cheerleaders’ free speech.

But in their communications, Warren and Ehrhart all but take credit for keeping the cheerleaders off of the field.

‘“I just got off the telephone with [Olens] again, reference the unpatriotic cheerleaders kneeling during the national anthem,” Warren wrote. “ He assured me that the cheerleaders will not be on field” from now on.

“Thanks for always standing up to these liberal[s] that hate the USA.”

“Yes, we spoke last night,” Ehrhart replied. “[Olens] had to be dragged there, but with you and I pushing, he had no choice. Thanks for your patriotism, my friend.”

Olens said the call he received from Warren came after he was notified of the athletic department’s decision to have the cheerleaders stay off of the field during the playing of the national anthem.

PHOTOS: KSU students march for cheerleaders