A Georgia college student has won a $145,000 settlement after being disciplined for taking a knee in protest during the national anthem when she was a cheerleader.
The controversy over Kennesaw State University’s crackdown on Tommia Dean and four other cheerleaders two years ago triggered the resignation of college President Sam Olens after state university officials said guidelines weren’t followed to protect the students’ constitutional rights.
Dean charged in a lawsuit last year that her rights were violated by college and local officials after the cheerleaders had silently protested police brutality during the national anthem at a football game in September 2017. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched the protest movement in 2016 to raise awareness about racial inequality and police brutality — a move that infuriated President Donald Trump.
Dean told WXIA-TV in Atlanta at the time of the cheerleaders’ protest: “Before we went out on the field, we all prayed. Together, we all prayed. I felt like this was something I needed to do here, in Cobb County, as a Kennesaw State cheerleader.”
After the kneeling protest, the cheerleaders, known as the Kennesaw Five, were not allowed on the field at the next game until after the national anthem played. Officials of the state university system concluded just two month later, however, that the women had a constitutional right to protest and that Kennesaw should not have interfered unless their actions caused a disruption.
A representative of Georgia’s Department of Administrative Services and Dean — a senior at Kennesaw who is no longer a cheerleader — signed the lawsuit settlement agreement for $145,000 in October, according to the Marietta Daily Journal, which obtained a copy of the agreement.
The controversy escalated after the local sheriff publicly condemned the cheerleaders’ protest. Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren said that his wife had “tears in her eyes, and we were both shocked to see such a lack of respect for our flag, our national anthem and the men and women that serve our nation.” Warren, who bragged in text messages that he pressured Olens to crack down on the cheerleaders, was initially named in Dean’s suit. He and a former state lawmaker were cut from the case early this year by a judge who ruled that the suit failed to prove “racial animus” by them. Dean’s attorneys told local media that they’re appealing the decision concerning Warren.
Another protesting cheerleader, Shlondra Young, told a local news station about the action in 2017: “We definitely knew that it was going to be something that got attention. And we wanted that attention to make sure we made our statement and that our voices were heard.” Young was the only one of the five who made the squad again after that year.
One of Dean’s attorneys, Randy Mayer, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “she’s happy that it’s mainly behind her.”