Her protest follows in the footsteps of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernickwho began kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality in While Morris may be the first NFL cheerleader to in protest, college and high school cheerleaders have knelt in solidarity for the last two years. Indeed, Morris and the other cheerleaders who choose to kneel are part of a longer history of protest by and about Black cheerleaders. From the s to the mids, Black high school and college students, athletes and non-athletes, parents, and community members pushed for the inclusion of Black cheerleaders in schools across the country.
In Pennsylvania, Black families from multiple townships utilized support from local NAACP chapters to threaten legal action against schools that failed to integrate cheer squ. Similarly, over Black students walked out of Argo Community High School outside of Chicago, Illinois, in the late s after demanding that half of the cheerleaders be Black. In nearby Madison, Wisconsin, seventeen Black football players were kicked off their high school team for skipping practice in protest of the lack of Black cheerleaders.
In response to their dismissal, nearly Black students boycotted public schools for a week until the school board voted to reinstate the players and mandated that half of the cheerleaders had to be Black the following season. The issue of Black cheerleaders became an important tool of institutional critique for three main reasons.
First, this critique targeted the gendered constraints of integration that valued Black male athletic bodies and created early avenues for school integration that were rarely open to Black girls. Secondly, protests around Black cheerleaders became conduits for larger arguments about the dearth of Black professionals in the schools, Black administrators, Black coaches, and Black students in a variety of extracurricular activities.
When a protest about Black cheerleaders threatened to close down Rome High School in Georgia, school officials not only agreed to integrate the cheerleading squad but also added Black students to the student council, Black faculty members, and integrated the coaching staff. Protests about Black cheerleaders could quickly morph into larger demonstrations against white supremacy and racial injustice.
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In students protested at the newly integrated Walter Williams High School in Burlington, North Carolinaafter a Black girl was refused a spot on the cheerleading team. The protest soon grew to include students at nearby Jordan-Sellers High School and local colleges. At the end of the second day of protesting, many stores were on fire, the National Guard and local police had escalated the violence, and a year-old Black boy lay dead, unarmed and riddled with gun shots.
While the Burlington case is exceptional because of the resulting violence, it illustrates that Black cheerleaders galvanized not only those who sought racial justice but also those who opposed integration. Indeed, in St. Petersburg, Florida, a Holiday Bowl game for the small college football championship was eventually relocated because the city was staunchly segregationist. Despite the bowl game being financially lucrative and the presence of Black players already being established, it was the inclusion of Black cheerleaders that led the city to protest the integrated bowl game.
Finally, protests about Black cheerleaders allowed students and parents to critique integration itself, which required them to conform to white styles of cheerleading. Black women and girls turned to cheerleading in part because it gave them access to the sporting sphere in ways other sports did now allow. I wanted to be on the sidelines to I could encourage the boys to do what they need to do. What I was really doing was taking one step closer to coaching.
Black cheerleaders and a long history of protest
For Black men on predominately white campuses, the recruit of Black women through cheerleading—in absence of other sporting opportunities—was also a priority both for young men looking to date and schools like University of Wyoming where they actively recruited Black women to attend alongside Black football players in an attempt to prevent interracial dating. At other campuses calls for Black cheerleaders also occurred as Black college students protested for Black Studies programs, Black faculty, and equitable access to extracurricular spaces.
Dartmouth football game. A group of Black cheerleaders at Northern Illinois University walked off a basketball court during the anthem in to protest the plight of Black students.
When Kayla Morris knelt earlier this year she ed in a longer but hidden history of Black cheerleaders demonstrating for change, and she did so from a particularly vulnerable position. These cheerleaders have faced a of reprisals for their protest activities. Kneelers from Kennesaw State and Southern Illinois have been dismissed from their respective teams. But punishment is not a deterrent to some.
Racism in the cheerleading world and the effects of cheerleading on black and african american women’s racial identity
In the case of Howard University, cheerleaders continue to protest. She specializes in 20th Century American History with an emphasis on race, gender, sports and politics. Follow her on Twitter mirarose Share with a friend:.