A Kennesaw State University sophomore filed a lawsuit last week accusing the school of violating her First Amendment rights in its handling of five cheerleaders who dropped to one knee in protest during the national anthem last year.
Tommia Dean, one of the five cheerleaders who knelt in the end zone last year to protest police brutality, claims she’s suffered an increase in migraines and emotional distress over the “loss of her constitutional rights,” according to the complaint filed in federal court Sept. 5, The Marietta Daily Journal reported.
Dean and her colleagues made headlines last fall when they began their on-field protests, stirring controversy their metro-Atlanta university. According to the suit, the young ladies, who are all African-American, began discussing whether they should kneel for the anthem last September, following several NFL players and college athletes who had also protested.
“The KSU cheerleaders learned that (other) college cheerleaders had also knelt during the playing of the national anthem, and decided, after prayer and discussion, that they would do the same,” the lawsuit reads.
All five cheerleaders involved in the protests tried out for this year’s squad, yet only one of them made it. University leaders said tryouts were extremely competitive this year but the cheerleaders suspect their protest is the reason they were passed over.
“I think it played a role because I know my skills — and I had the skills two years prior to that, so I know what I can do,” Dean told 11Alive News in August. “I know the people who made it. I know their skills and I know my skills. But I don’t think it was a skills-based thing. Not to say I’m amazing or anything, but I know my skills and what I had.”
The cheerleaders’ protest not only caused an uproar but prompted then-president Sam Olens to ban them from the pre-game show, remanding them to the tunnel during the anthem. The ladies were eventually allowed back on the field, however, after Georgia’s attorney general ruled the protests constitutionally-protected speech that could continue, so long as it was not disruptive.
Dean’s complaint also points to damning text messages between Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and retiring state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, who cheered after successfully convincing Olens to keep the students in the tunnel during the anthem. Ehrhart had earlier pressed Olens to boot the cheerleaders from the squad altogether, the lawsuit alleges.
“I don’t know if you’ve talked to Sam lately but I just got off the telephone with him about the unpatriotic cheerleaders kneeling during the national anthem … ,” the sheriff wrote to Ehrhart. “He assured me that the cheerleaders will not be on the field … Thanks for always standing up too (sic) these liberal that hate the USA.”
According to the MDJ, Olens, Warren and Ehrhart are all listed as defendants in the lawsuit, along with two university senior associate athletic directors. Moreover, Warren and Ehrhart are accused of “participating in a private conspiracy actionable under the Ku Klux Klan Act” of 1871, which was passed by Congress during Reconstruction when elected officials faced pressure from private citizens to oppose the assimilation of Black Americans into society.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
*Editor’s Note: Tanasia Kenney is an alumna of Kennesaw State University.