Former College Cheerleader Who Was Punished For Protesting During National Anthem Wins $145,000 Settlement
Following a 2017 protest during the national anthem, five Kennesaw State University cheerleaders were forced to stay in the stadium tunnel before the game.
Update (December 6, 2019): Tommia Dean won a $145,000 settlement against her school, Kennesaw State University, on Thursday after they punished her for kneeling during the national anthem in 2017.
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The school banned five Kennesaw cheerleaders from being on the field during the national anthem after they knelt during a football game.
The students decided to kneel during the national anthem after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kicked off a national movement in 2016 that saw hundreds of athletes protest against police brutality and racism.
School officials admitted just two months later that they were wrong to ban the students, dubbed the Kennesaw Five, but Republican State Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren waged a public crusade against the students. They publicly and privately pressured university President Sam Olens to punish the women. Warren also made dozens of outlandish comments about how the protest affected him and his wife.
“My wife, Penny, 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. Cobb County has lost sons and daughters at home and on foreign lands while protecting America,” Warren told a local news outlet at the time.
“And to witness these ill-informed students acting this way clearly tells me KSU needs to get busy educating these students on more than just passing their classes. They need to learn all that the flag truly represents,” he added.
According to Yahoo News, Ehrhart and Warren were originally included in the lawsuit but a federal judge removed them, claiming there was no “racial animus” in their publicity campaign against the women. Dean and her lawyers have said they will appeal the judge’s decision to remove Warren but not Ehrhart.
The Marietta Daily Journal got a copy of the settlement agreement, which was signed by a representative for the state department on October 25.
“A compromise has been reached. The intent of this agreement is to buy peace of mind from future controversy and forestall further attorney’s fees, costs, or other expenses of litigation, and further that this agreement represents the compromise, economic resolution of disputed claims and, as such, shall not be deemed in any manner an admission, finding, conclusion, evidence or indication for any purposes whatsoever, that the KSU defendants acted contrary to the law or otherwise violated the rights of Dean,” the agreement said.
The Georgia Department of Administrative Services will cut Dean a $93,000 check and will cover her legal costs of $52,000.
Olens was eventually forced to resign as president of the university because of his decision to ban the women from the field.
Original (November 27, 2019): Following former Kennesaw State President Sam Olens’ scandalous attempt to stop national anthem protests carried out by cheerleaders in September, one of the student-athletes has reached a settlement with four of the defendants.
Tommia Dean was one of five cheerleaders who protested by kneeling during the national anthem before the Georgia school's football game on September 30, 2017. Following their demonstration, the school forced the cheerleaders to wait in the stadium tunnel until after the anthem played at subsequent games.
While the university claimed the measure to hold the cheerleaders in the tunnel was already planned before the kneeling protest, recovered text messages among Olens, former state Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren proved otherwise.
“I just got off the telephone with [Olens] again, reference the unpatriotic cheerleaders kneeling during the national anthem. He assured me that the cheerleaders will not be on field from now on,” Warren wrote.
Another text from Warren read, “Thanks for always standing up to these liberal[s] that hate the USA.”
11Alive reports that both Warren and Ehrhart were outraged over the initial protest demonstration and discussed how to respond to the incident. Ehrhart was the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on higher education, which determines the university’s annual funding.
In other text messages, the former state representative said, "[Olens] had to be dragged there, but with you and I [Warren] pushing, he had no choice. Thanks for your patriotism, my friend."
The KSU student-athlete appeared on The View in September 2018, explaining the protest and the events that followed. She said only one of the five cheerleaders who protested made the team the following year.
"We found out on Twitter and Instagram that we didn't make the team," Dean shared with the talk show hosts. "So, we didn't get an explanation or anything. Later on, an article was written by a student at Kennesaw State for our journal, and she asked them, and they pretty much told her it was because there was a lot of competition this year and they didn't have the skills."
Dean filed a civil rights violation lawsuit in 2018 against Olens, Ehrhart, Warren, KSU deputy athletics director Matt Griffin and senior associate athletics director Scott Whitlock. Everyone except Warren reached a settlement with Dean.
While details about the settlement are scarce, Dean reportedly stated a conclusion was reached on "amicable" terms.