After Her Right To Kneel Was Taken Away, This College Cheerleader Gave Up The Sport She Loved

"... That’s not something you can compromise on."

While the biggest topic of conversation in the football world lately has been about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, that conversation is happening at all levels of society. Case in point: Alyssa Parker, a college-aged woman who quit her university's cheerleading team when told that she — and fellow athletes — weren't allowed to peacefully protest racial injustice in America.


After being inspired by the death of Jordan Edwards, a Black teen boy from Texas who was killed by a White cop about six months before turning 16, Parker made the decision, along with other cheerleaders and some football players at Buena Vista University, to kneel during the September 30 home football game — a la Colin Kaepernick. Even though Parker was born and raised in Iowa, Edwards' death impacted her and she felt that ignoring it — and the other tragic instances like it — was the wrong thing to do "because it could have just as easily been me or one of my friends that died that day."

"[Kaepernick]'s given so many Black people, like me, the courage and inspiration to seek change in this country and I admire that powerful message so much," Parker explains, via an in-depth Cosmopolitan essay. "'We can't be scared,' I told them. 'This movement is bigger than us.' "

The athletic coaches were "extremely supportive" of what Parker and the others were planning and told them they didn't need to explain why they were doing it, they understood. A few White cheerleaders offered to kneel as well, giving Parker hope that this diverse squad would be able to "make a real difference and ignite a much-needed conversation on the Buena Vista campus."

During the national anthem, nine cheerleaders and a few football players took a knee. Parker notes that everything in the stadium "went completely silent." No boos. No cheers. Just silence. As far as Parker was concerned, it was a success. When she woke up the next morning, though, she was met with negative backlash and said that "for every positive comment it seemed like there were 300 negative ones." Her presence — as well as that of others who peacefully protested — were requested at a dinner with President Merchant, head of the university, on October 3.

At that dinner, President Merchant asked Parker and the others if they would be willing to compromise by kneeling before the national anthem and standing united as a team during it. This, to Parker, was not something that should be compromised. "'When it comes to Black lives being taken, that's not something you can compromise on,' I explained," the article reads. "'This isn't the type of thing that can be compromised.'"

It was just three days later when Parker said the entire campus woke up to an email from President Merchant with the subject line "Moving Forward." In it, he explained that nobody would kneel during the national anthem, that he would stand with them out of solidarity, and that he was sorry on behalf of the peaceful protesters.

Meeting with President Merchant again didn't yield any different outcome and Parker, after discussing it with family, decided to kneel again at the next home football game on October 21. Before that day came, the athletic director informed Parker that kneeling after the president had declared not to would potentially get her in trouble — and that was something she couldn't chance, especially since becoming a civil rights lawyer was the end goal.

It was this defeated moment in which Parker decided to quit the cheerleading team, giving up something she loves for something her heart said was more important.

"Coach, the cheer team is very important to me, but so are my personal beliefs. Standing for something I know isn't right shouldn't be forced on me …," Parker's resignation letter reads. "Changing how this campus thinks about social injustice, helping people understand, and moving this conversation forward is the type of thing I want to accomplish before I leave BVU. I don't want to upset you or the team, but this is what I need to do."

As the founder of BVU's Black Student Union, Parker and other members have written to President Merchant to ask for the new mandate to be reconsidered. But, per Cosmo, he said there are no plans to respond to them or to take it back.

"I miss cheer every minute of every day. But I know in my heart that I did the right thing. I can't sit still while kids like Jordan Edwards get shot and killed by police," Parker said. "I can't just do nothing after experiencing racism myself. Resigning from my Buena Vista cheer team may be a small gesture, but I know it can make a difference."


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