A San Francisco 49ers cheerleader took a knee during the national anthem prior to Thursday’s game against the Oakland Raiders.
The cheerleader who has not been identified has not spoken publicly about her motives.
Cheerleader for Colin Kaepernick’s former team kneels
She took a knee on the night that the 49ers started quarterback Nick Mullens, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier this season after signing as an undrafted rookie in 2017.
Mullens is the third quarterback to start for the team this year after an ACL tear ended Jimmy Garoppolo’s season and a wrist injury kept backup C.J. Beathard out of Thursday’s game.
Colin Kaepernick, who started the practice of protesting social injustice by kneeling during the anthem, last played for the 49ers in 2016. He is still seeking NFL employment despite having proven himself as quarterback capable of starting in the league because of his decision to draw attention to police brutality and racial inequality.
While players throughout the league joined Kaepernick in his protests, this is the first known protest by a cheerleader.
ELLE spoke with several NFL cheerleaders in 2017 asking why the did not participate in the protests alongside players. Some pointed to lack of support and fear of losing their positions in a climate where Kaepernick couldn’t find a job.
From ELLE’s report:
Not one woman ELLE.com spoke to for this story said she would have participated in the protests. It’s simply not the culture of cheering, they explained, and their captains wouldn’t have supported them. Also, since cheerleaders are often told how replaceable they are, they felt that they could very easily be fired for taking a stand. One pointed out that even a talented, well-known player like Kaepernick essentially lost his job for making a statement. Few cheerleaders would be willing to take that risk.
Other cheerleader protests
Cheerleaders at other levels of football have protested.
Five Kennesaw State cheerleaders who knelt during the national anthem before a 2017 football game were barred from the field during subsequent anthems under pressure from a Georgia state representative and sheriff who were “furious” about the protests.
School president Sam Olens eventually reinstated field access to the “Kennesaw Five.”
“While I believe there are more effective ways to initiate an exchange of ideas on issues of national concern, the right to exercise one’s Freedom of Speech under the First Amendment must be protected,” Olens wrote in a letter.
Four of the cheerleaders didn’t make the squad in 2018.
An image of Georgia Tech dancer Raianna Brown went viral in 2017 after she knelt during the anthem before a game.