Texts: Sheriff, lawmaker pushed to stop cheerleader protest

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2017 1:22 PM
Texts: Sheriff, lawmaker pushed to stop cheerleader protest

KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — A powerful lawmaker texted a Georgia sheriff, boasting how they pressured a university president to take action after black cheerleaders knelt during the national anthem at a football game.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the text messages under Georgia's open records act.

Kennesaw State University cheerleaders were told they'd be kept off the field at future pregame activities and moved into the stadium tunnel after five of them knelt to protest racial injustice at a college game Sept. 30.

In the texts, state Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren thanked each other for their patriotism. Ehrhart said Kennesaw State President Sam Olens had to be pressured into action.

"He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice. Thanks for your patriotism my friend," Ehrhart wrote to the sheriff.

The sheriff has said that his wife, Penny, became tearful when they attended the earlier game and saw the cheerleaders kneel. In the text messages, the sheriff said he was "pissed" when Olens initially told Penny that he didn't have the authority to do anything.

In one text which included misspellings, the sheriff wrote to Ehrhart: "Thanks for always standing up too these liberal that hate the USA."

Ehrhart chairs a committee that allocates funds to Georgia's public universities, including Kennesaw State, northwest of Atlanta. With 35,000 students, Kennesaw State is Georgia's third-largest university and one of the nation's 50 largest public institutions.

Ehrhart and Kennesaw State spokeswoman Tammy DeMel on Wednesday didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. The sheriff's spokesman also said Wednesday the sheriff wouldn't comment.

Earlier, DeMel had said in a statement to AP that the decision to move the cheerleaders was part of multiple changes designed to enhance the game-day atmosphere.

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The Atlanta newspaper last week asked Olens whether there were "any pressure or demands from any individuals and organizations to change the policy regarding cheerleaders at sporting events."

"No," Olens replied.

Though being moved off-field during the anthem, the so-called Kennesaw Five are vowing to kneel in the stadium tunnel — even though they will be outside of public view — before Saturday's homecoming game at the school.

The cheerleaders said they closely watched national debate over NFL players kneeling during the anthem, before adopting that protest. The NFL has been embroiled in controversy over players using the anthem before games to protest against racial inequality and police brutality, protests that have spread at times outside the NFL to college and high school athletic venues.