Athletics officials at Southern Illinois University added language to its code of conduct policy explicitly banning activism for student-athletes, cheerleaders and members of the spirit squad.
The move comes after a group of three cheerleaders — all of whom are black — took a knee during the national anthem at SIU sporting events last year.
According to the Daily Egyptian, the new policy states:
“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. 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.”
After the protests began last season, the school took measures to hide the cheer squad from view during the national anthem. They were reportedly moved from the sideline to a concourse at football games, and brought out after the anthem at basketball games.
Chancellor Carlo Montemagno voiced support for the protesting members of the cheer squad on several occasions, including in a statement following the homecoming game when he 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.”
The Egyptian reports that only one member of the cheer squad who protested last year is on this year’s squad. Prior to the policy change, she said her plan was to not take a knee again.
“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,” senior women administrator Liz Jarnigan told the Egyptian.