SIU Athletics bans displays of activism to “put forward a message of unity,” one cheerleader returns following 2017 protests


Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz

Sophomore radio, television and digital media major Czarina Tinker, of Nashville, Tennessee, left, and sophomore psychology major Ariahn Hunt, of Chicago, far right, kneel during the national anthem Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, before the Salukis’ matchup against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers at Saluki Stadium. President Donald Trump publicly criticized NFL athletes who kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality last week. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

By Brian Munoz, Staff Reporter

Two of the three Southern Illinois University cheerleaders who protested during the national anthem last fall will not be returning to the squad this season.

Czarina Tinker, from Nashville, Tennessee, Ariahn Hunt and Alaysia Brandy, both from Chicago, took a knee during the national anthem during various sporting events last academic year.

Brandy is the only returning cheerleader from the three, according to a roster provided to the Daily Egyptian by SIU Carbondale Intercollegiate Athletics.

Hunt and Tinker did not return various requests for commentary. Tinker is not currently enrolled at the university, according to the SIU Registrar’s Office.

SIU Athletics administration has also added new language to the Code of Conduct policy that states any displays of activism will not be tolerated and could lead to the individual’s removal from their respective program.

“It is a privilege and not a right to be a student-athlete, cheerleader or spirit member at Southern Illinois University,” according to the addition provided by Liz Jarnigan, SIU Athletics senior woman administrator.

“Members of the department including student athletes cheerleaders and spirit members must remain neutral on any issue political in nature when wearing SIU official uniforms and when competing/performing in official department of athletics events and activities,” according to the addition provided to the Daily Egyptian. “Any display (verbal or non-verbal) of activism (either for or against) a political issue will not be tolerated and may result in dismissal from the program.”

Jarnigan, a recent hire by acting athletic director Jerry Kill, is replacing Kathy Jones in the role after Jones retired last December. Jarnigan previously served in similar roles at the Air Force Academy and at San Jose State.

“We are just not wanting anybody who represents the department of athletics and wears the colors to get involved in heated discourse on one side or the other,” Jarnigan said. “It’s not the appropriate place and we are not wanting to make political statements of any kind when were representing the university, the Department of Athletics, any academic institution and southern Illinois in general.”

Jarnigan said the addition to the Code of Conduct is to move a message of unity forward.

“We have this policy because were wanting to put forward a message of unity and by taking sides or offending one side or the other… that’s not what we believe [is our] purpose,” Jarnigan said.

Brandy said she will no longer be taking a knee during the anthem and her decision to do so was made before the changes from the administration.

“It was already decided upon to not take a knee again because we accomplished what we were going for by bringing attention to our cause and now it’s time for change,” Brandy said. “America, as a country, is very reactive instead of proactive and that needs to change.”

Brandy said there needs to be reform in the way officers are trained.

“Background checks on said police officers and when it does come down to them breaking the law and abusing their power they need to be held accountable to the fullest to show other officers you can’t get away with crime, that you can’t hide behind a badge,” Brandy said. “It’s time for change.”

Three weeks after the protests began last October, the three cheerleaders were hidden from the public eye during the national anthem in a game-day procedure change designed to “enhance the game day experience,” according to university administration and athletics.

Administration moved the cheerleaders from a prominent spot on the sideline during pregame football ceremonies to the Saluki Stadium concourse.

When the cheerleaders first kneeled during the anthem on Sept. 30 of last year, SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno reassured former SIU President Randy Dunn there would be no change in protocol and he would allow the cheerleaders to demonstrate.

“Members of the university’s senior staff, including legal counsel, researched and discussed several options in looking at balancing the students’ First Amendment rights and freedom of speech, the multi-faceted public relations impact the issue has created,” Montemagno said to Dunn in an Oct. 13, 2017 email. “The bottom line is there are not going to be any changes to game day procedures. All cheerleaders will be on the field during the National Anthem as has been tradition.”

See more: Taking a stand on one knee

Later that month, the cheerleaders were removed from pre-game ceremonies during volleyball games. Kelsey Baden, the Spirit Squad coach who oversees the cheerleaders, shakers and mascot, said it was because the squad was late to the games.

Brandy disputed the cheerleaders were late, saying they arrived at the Salukis’ volleyball matchup against Illinois State at least 30 minutes before the commencement of the game.

Baden resigned from her position at the SIUC Spirit Squad coach early last summer to take a position as the cheer coordinator at Lamar University, a doctoral/research university in Beaumont, Texas.

Daniel Snow, owner of Snow Power Gymnastics and Dance in Herrin, was named the new coach after Baden’s resignation.

“We know that the protocol was officially put into place at basketball [but] we feel as though we were strategically not put out during the anthem at volleyball games,” Brandy said.

The cheerleaders were furthermore removed from courtside from all home basketball games and brought out after the anthem.

During a Nov. 27 basketball game against SIU Edwardsville, a Daily Egyptian staff photographer was stopped from photographing the three cheerleaders protesting in the confines of the backstage area by Thomas Weber, SIU Athletic Communications Director.

“We had an issue prior to game tonight,” a text message to Montemagno  on Dec. 7 said. “We have photographers from DE doing all they could to get pictures tonight of cheerleaders. Just a heads up. Meeting with coach tomorrow because squad is not following directions and [Baden] is not following up with them to ensure procedures.”

SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno released a statement after the Oct. 14 homecoming football game saying he supported the cheerleaders’ right to protest.

“The two symbols that are the focus of these peaceful protests stand for one of our most important constitutional rights: freedom of speech,” Montemagno said. “We may not agree with how these students are choosing to make their statements, but we must morally and legally protect their right to make them.”

See more: SIU Cheerleaders say they are hidden during national anthem due to kneeling protests

Tom Goetz, local military organizer, emailed Montemagno on Nov. 1, asking if the cheerleaders who had protested would be in attendance at the Dec. 19 basketball game against the North Carolina A&T Aggies.

“I believe that we have it worked out so the cheerleaders are not on the field or in the arena during the National Anthem,” Montemagno writes. “The new procedure worked this pass [sic] week for the women’s basketball game. This weekend will be football and men’s basketball which will be the final test.”

The cheerleaders were also kept outside of Saluki Stadium during the annual military appreciation game last Nov. 11 as pregame ceremonies, including the national anthem were underway. They were not permitted to attend the pregame ceremonies, including the national anthem.

Minutes before the planned demonstration at the football game, Montemagno emailed the three cheerleaders and said he continued to respect their right to kneel.

“I want you to know I continue to respect your right to kneel during the National Anthem,” Montemagno writes to the cheerleaders in the Nov. 11 email. “The First Amendment provides you that privilege and I will not deny you that right.”

In a Nov. 18 email to Montemagno, SIU Spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith responded to the Southern Illinoisan article showing the cheerleaders being kept outside of Saluki Stadium during the Veteran’s Day military appreciation football game on Nov. 11.

“Interesting that the pictures shows them protesting while they claim in the story that we are preventing their right to protest,” Goldsmith said.

Former SIU Athletic Director Tommy Bell did not say the change was made in response to the cheerleader’s protests.

“Our spirit teams have greeted customers at the entrances in the past, so this is not a new procedure for athletics,” Bell said to the Southern Illinoisan last November. “In fact, we had a consultant review our game operations last year, and one of his recommendations was to make arriving to a game an event in and of itself.”

The Daily Egyptian requested a copy of the consultant’s full report through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act but the release of the full consultant report was denied by the university after months of deliberation at the Illinois Office of the Attorney General.

The university hired 2D Consulting based in Burlington, North Carolina to assess game day operations in the Fall 2016 semester.

SIU Athletics paid $4,500 plus travel expenses to have the firm “identify opportunities and liabilities to maximize and improve home event operations,” according to the bid obtained by the Daily Egyptian.

[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”” caption=”2D Consultants W9 and Proposal”]

The firm set up “secret shops” during the Nov. 19, 2016 football game against Western Illinois University and during the Nov. 21, 2016 home basketball game against Mount Saint Mary’s to evaluate attendee interactions.

After appealing the request to the Illinois Attorney General’s office, Teresa Lim, Illinois Assistant Attorney General, said that “there is no indication that the university adopted the report as final university policy, as opposed to considering it in the process of formulating a policy.”

Lim further said while Bell was the head of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, the department is part of the University’ s formal organizational structure and is subject to the Chancellor’s direction.

The findings of the consultant’s 2016 report have not yet been released.

Tommy Bell was terminated from his position as athletic director for undisclosed reasons on April 26 and replaced by Kill, a former SIU Football Coach who was recently hired as a special assistant to the chancellor.

Kill is currently serving in the capacity as acting athletic director.

“It’s time for us to make a change in leadership that will help the program fulfill its potential,” Montemagno said according to the release on April 26. “I am deeply grateful for Tommy’s service and wish him well for the future.”

The protests were not against the flag or against the administration, Hunt said during an interview last October.

“It was a protest for our civil rights that we are still fighting for, that we have been fighting for, for hundreds of years and we’re not getting any justice,” Hunt said.

Brandy, a junior studying biological sciences, mirrored Hunt’s sentiments during the October interview.

“We’re still fighting for our civil rights that our ancestors have been fighting for,” Brandy said. “Black people and minorities as a whole have still been trying to become equal in society, and it has not changed.”

Tinker’s reason for kneeling focused on how minorities are treated by law enforcement.

“I did it because we still haven’t had justice against police brutality,” Tinker said. “Nothing has been done and it needs to change ASAP.”

It is unclear if the cheerleaders and spirit squad members will be returning to the playing surface during the anthem this year.

The same day the three SIU cheerleaders took a knee during the national anthem, five cheerleaders took a similar approach at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia.

University officials made game day schedule changes that kept the cheerleaders inside the tunnel during the anthem a week after the initial protest, according to the KSU Sentinel.

The changes were rescinded by Kennesaw State University president Sam Olens on Oct. 9 after a campus protest in support of the cheerleaders.

Olens stepped down as president of the university last December after text messages obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed an exchange between Georgia state Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren show the two pressured Olens into silencing the cheerleaders’ protest, the Sentinel reports.

Four out of the five cheerleaders that participated in the KSU protests last year did not return to the team after tryouts this academic year.

Last May, the National Football League passed a policy that gives athletes the option to stay in their locker rooms during the national anthem, but requires they stand if they are on the field. Teams will be penalized if their players do not comply to the policy.

President Donald Trump praised the new NFL policies and said people should “stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be paying.”

Trump furthermore added that those who do  “maybe… shouldn’t be in the country.”

Vice President Mike Pence reacted to the NFL’s new policy with a one word tweet – “#Winning.”

The SIU cheerleaders were honored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last January during the 36th Annual Martin Luther King Junior breakfast.

Linda Flowers, NAACP Carbondale Branch president, said the three are “college students whose courage transcends cheerleading.”

“They have risked their safety, dare I say their cheerleading careers, to protest violence and injustices to African Americans,” Flowers said.

Lori Stettler, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, attended the ceremony in place of Montemagno citing he was on a fundraising campaign and was unable to attend.

“The three young ladies were recognized for their courage in standing up for what they believe in,” Stettler said. “That is foundational to everything we believe in as a society and as an institution.”

Staff reporter Brian Munoz can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrianMMunoz.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.