Cheerleaders' protests reportedly shut down by Georgia sheriff, lawmaker

On football's biggest stage, meetings between the NFL and its players have much of the league talking up cooperative social activism in the wake of pregame protests across professional sports.

This is a contrast to the dozens of public statements by President Donald Trump, who has publicly ignored the NFL's stance on protesting players' pursuit of discussion on social equality and criminal justice reform, instead alleging that those who kneel during the national anthem are doing it to "disrespect" America.

But Trump isn't necessarily alone in applauding the "great anger" that he says stems from those peacefully protesting on the field.

Investigations by NBC's WXIA-TV (11Alive), which were relayed with additional reporting by Yahoo Sports, suggest that a "furious" state representative and local sheriff attempted -- and essentially succeeded -- in thwarting protests at the collegiate level.

When the Kennesaw State University administration started keeping its football team's cheerleaders off the field for the anthem, the reports indicate, it wasn't just a response to five of those cheerleaders kneeling during a Sept. 30 playing of the national anthem. It was also, as implied through text messages obtained by 11Alive, the result of pressure from Rep. Earl Ehrhart and sheriff Neil Warren.

The messages, accessed thanks to Georgia's Open Records Act, revealed that Ehrhart and Warren told each other how "furious" they were upon seeing the cheerleaders kneel in protest of police misconduct and racial inequality. They also showed Ehrhart accusing school president Sam Olens of "coddling" the cheerleaders, to which Warren was revealed to have said the following: "Let me know what I can do to help you stop this BS on taxpayer-funded college campuses."

Further text messages, as reported by 11Alive, showed Warren eventually assuring Ehrhart that he had spoken with Olens and stood up to "the unpatriotic cheerleaders" and "these liberal[s] that hate the USA."

For what it's worth, the cheerleaders' protests, much like those of NFL players who have also engaged in accompanying community service, have never been documented as calls to "hate" America but rather to address social inequalities. And as they continue, they have sparked both support and backlash from the Kennesaw State community -- some area residents have echoed Warren's "unpatriotic" comments, while two organizations, including a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights organization and Cobb County's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, have demanded an investigation into the university's policy change to keep cheerleaders off the field.

When Yahoo Sports reached out for additional comments from Ehrhart, the representative's office doubled down on keeping protests off taxpayer-funded venues, even though he reportedly pressured the university to make a policy change while simultaneously chairing a committee that affects the school's funding:

"I take very seriously patriotism and respect for our flag and for those who fight and died for our freedom. This should not be a conservative or liberal position. This should be an American position. I understand the constitutional right to protest the flag and our national anthem. But that doesn't make it right, especially if protesters represent a state institution on taxpayer funded restricted venues."  

Ehrhart's words suggest protests during the anthem stand in stark contrast to "an American position," but the organizations pleading for an investigation into Kennesaw State's decisions suggest otherwise. Like PEN America, which deemed NFL owners' decision not to prohibit players from protesting a "rebuke" of President Trump's call for protesters to be punished, they propose that "an American position" is one that includes freedom of speech -- with or without pressure from local officials.

CBS Sports Writer

Cody Benjamin joined CBS Sports in 2017 after time spent with SB Nation, various newspapers and his own Eagles outlet. Raised around the Philly sports scene, he now lives in Minnesota with his wife and... Full Bio

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