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As the national anthem plays inside Saluki Stadium, SIU cheerleaders Alaysia Brandy (from left), Czarina Tinker and Ariahn Hunt kneel outside of the stadium prior to the Salukis football game against Youngstown State last season.

CARBONDALE — After receiving much feedback from the community and civil rights advocates, the SIU Athletics Department decided to revisit a proposed  new portion of its athletic handbook prohibiting displays of political speech by athletes while wearing an SIU uniform.

“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,” the original language read.

“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.”

However, athletic director Jerry Kill said recent reports that this clause was final were wildly exaggerated. Despite a report this week by The Daily Egyptian that “SIU Athletics administration has also added new language to the Code of Conduct policy,” Kill said this is nowhere near final.

“It’s a work in progress,” Kill said.

Kill said he had five or six drafts of the language sitting on his desk Friday. He said they are still not done taking input from people locally and nationally.

Some have said that if political speech is banned, actions like putting hand over hearts for the pledge before basketball games or the football team running out with the flag before games should also be on the chopping block.

“All that stuff is way too complicated,” Kill said when asked about this.

Kill said the country should act more like a football team.

“They all have to work together to win. That’s beautiful,” he said, adding that if they can’t all work together then they’ve got the same problem the country has.

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On Thursday, Saluki Athletics said in a statement it had “missed the mark” with the new language.

“The purpose of the addition was to display unity and to provide a positive experience for our student-athletes and Saluki fans,” the news release said. It went on to say that infringement of free speech was never the intent.

“We will revisit the language and do not plan to use it as currently written,” the release said — according to the statement the department will work with student athletes, “to turn the language into a positive values statement related to the focus and purpose of athletics.”

The question of activism on the playing field came to a head last year when members of the Saluki Spirit Squad took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and killing of black citizens at the hands of law enforcement. However, protest from some community members attempted to change the narrative, insisting that it was instead a show of disrespect to the flag, the military and America as an institution.

In order to keep things neutral, the Spirit Squad were kept out of sight during the anthem where they could protest outside of the view of spectators.

The new language attempted to go further, which received outcry from many as a direct infringement of the students’ First Amendment right to free speech and peaceful protest.

“Southern Illinois University’s new policy suggesting that players or cheerleaders could be removed from their respective program for peaceful ‘displays of activism’ falls short of the critical responsibility of a public university to honor and protect free speech rights for their students,” wrote Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Yohnka continued, saying:

“Schools should not threaten students — or hide them away — because they engage in protests that some in the community may not agree with. SIU administrators should act immediately to reverse these new restrictive policies and welcome a full, vocal debate on all issues on the campus.”

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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