Cheerleader Reaches $145,000 Settlement Over Backlash to Her Kneeling During Anthem at Football Game

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According to local reports, Kennesaw State University senior Tommia Dean has reached a $145,000 settlement from the Georgia Department of Administrative Services more than a year after filing a suit alleging her First Amendment rights had been violated when she and four other football cheerleaders were said they were punished for kneeling during the national anthem in September 2017.

“I didn’t think it was right for minorities to have to walk around and be terrified every day, and to see a police officer and to not know how should I act, what should I do,” Dean explained in September 2018 about her motivation to kneel while speaking to hosts at “The View.”

Tommia Dean
Tommia Dean and her fellow cheerleaders sparked backlash when they began kneeling in protest during the national anthem at a September 2017 Kennesaw State University football game. (Photo: “The View” video screenshot)

At the following football game on Oct. 3, the entire cheerleading team was kept in the stadium tunnel until the end of the anthem.

In her suit, Dean alleged cheerleaders were always on the field during the singing of the anthem prior to the kneeling incident on Sept. 28.

Kennesaw State officials told local outlets 26 months ago the decision to keep the cheerleaders off the field during the national anthem was prompted by changes in how the university handles games and was unrelated to the protest.

The decision was made just days after cheerleaders took a knee on the field. Dean and the other cheerleaders, who became known as the Kennesaw Five, believe the decision was motivated by the university disagreeing with their choice to kneel, an act of protest that was emulating that of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

They were only let back on the sidelines after the University System of Georgia interfered, saying the students have a constitutional right to freedom of speech, which includes their right to peaceful protest.

The cheerleaders’ quiet protest of injustice and police brutality was met with backlash from Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and Republican state Rep. Earl Ehrhart — both were named in Dean’s suit filed Sep. 5, 2018, a filing that included Kennesaw State President Sam Olens, deputy athletics director Matt Griffin, and senior associate athletics director Scott Whitlock as defendants.

Text messages from Warren, who publicly spoke out against the cheerleaders “disrespecting the flag,” and Ehrhart showed both demanding the now-former President Olens take action against the Kennesaw Five. The Marietta Daily Journal reports that Dean’s settlement ends her case against four of the defendants. Warren was dropped from the suit by a court, a decision Dean’s attorneys say they will appeal.

Dean believes she and three of the other cheerleaders were not brought back to the team due to the kneeling protest. Of the Kennesaw Five, only Shlondra Young, who is the oldest of the group, was brought back the following year.

Keith Boykin interviews the Kennesaw Five (Video: Keith Boykin/Youtube)
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