A Cheerleader Wasn’t Allowed To Kneel During National Anthem, So She Took Legal Action

"If you respect each other, you will understand each other."

A former cheerleader at Georgia's Kennesaw State University is standing up for her right to protest. On Wednesday, Tommia Dean revealed she filed a complaint against the sch ool and local elected officials for violating her right to protest by kneeling during the national anthem at a football game last year.

The 20-year-old is one of five cheerleaders who chose to echo Colin Kaepernick's infamous "taking a knee" during the anthem at a KSU football game on September 30, 2017. The group, who were later dubbed the "Kennesaw Five," kneeled in the end zone during a game at the university's stadium.

As word of their actions spread across campus, the controversy began to grow both among university officials and local representatives. According to Dean's lawsuit, former KSU President Sam Olens and senior associate athletic directors Scott Whitlock and Matt Griffin expressed concern over the protest. Meanwhile, a week after the game, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren told the Marietta Daily Journal that he and his wife were "shocked to see such a lack of respect for our flag."

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Eventually, KSU decided the cheerleaders would no longer be on the field while the national anthem played, essentially preventing Dean and the other four women from exhibiting any sort of protest. To add insult to injury, Dean says all five tried out for the KSU cheerleading squad again the following season, but only one was picked.

Though the school chalked the decision up to "a lot of competition," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution later published text messages exchanged between Warren and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart in October 2017 that seemed to suggest the two were lobbying Olens to remove the five cheerleaders, who they deemed "unpatriotic" and "liberal[s] that hate the USA."

Now, Dean is taking action against Olens, Warren, Ehrhart, Whitlock, and Griffin. The complaint filed against the five men states that Dean's First Amendment rights were violated by the prohibition of the peaceful protest and cites emotional distress caused by the violation.

"You just don't really know how to take it but it does add stress onto your life," Dean said in a recent appearance on The View. She described the impact the controversy has had on her mental and physical health, stating, "I was constantly laying in bed. I couldn't even get out of bed because my head was hurting so bad."

By pursuing legal action, Dean hopes not only to defend her own right to protest but to encourage an open conversation about the issue. "We could at least agree to respect each other, maybe not understand it, but at least respect each other," she said. "Because eventually, if you respect each other, you will understand each other."

Dean isn't the only cheerleader who has faced repercussions for her kneeling in protest of police brutality against Blacks. Last year, Alyssa Parker of Buena Vista University was told she would not be allowed to kneel while on the field. She ultimately decided to leave the sport.

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