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San Francisco 49ers cheerleader kneels during national anthem

‘Thursday Night Football’ kicked off with protest

11:32 AMA cheerleader for the San Francisco 49ers appeared to kneel during the playing of the national anthem ahead of the team’s home game against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night.

Minutes before the 8:20 p.m. Eastern time kickoff, pictures began to surface online of the woman, who has yet to be identified, kneeling in the end zone with her hands and pompoms on her waist alongside other 49ers cheerleaders who were all standing.

The act of kneeling or sitting during the national anthem was started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Kaepernick, who has been out of the league since the end of that season, refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” in protest of police violence and the oppression of “black people and people of color.” Scores of NFL players and other athletes have since joined Kaepernick in kneeling for the anthem, including former teammate Eric Reid, women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe and various youth, high school and collegiate teams.

While athletes have gained the most attention for the protests, and the 49ers cheerleader was the first cheerleader in the NFL to participate, cheerleaders at all levels across the country have been kneeling during the national anthem.

In September 2016, a month after Kaepernick first sat, the entire Howard University cheerleading squad took a knee during the national anthem ahead of a game against Hampton. (The women did stand for the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” otherwise known as the black national anthem.) Since then, members of squads at Kennesaw State University, Georgia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania have also joined in on the protests.

Former NFL cheerleaders told Elle magazine in 2017 that their former counterparts hadn’t participated at that point because cheerleaders “are a little fish in a big pond” and that “there is a huge intimidation factor that these women experience.”

Since Kaepernick began the protest, he’s raised more than $1 million to donate to various social activism organizations and received various prestigious awards for his efforts. In October 2017, he filed a grievance against NFL owners, accusing the league and its owners of colluding to keep him out of the league because of his protests.

Hampton adds women’s triathlon program

It’ll be only HBCU with a team and one of 26 programs in the U.S.

9:56 AMAfter joining the Big South Conference last year, Hampton University has found another way to expand its brand and reach. It will officially add the triathlon as a varsity sport. It is the first historically black college or university (HBCU) to do so.

“This is another way to get the Hampton brand worldwide. This is a way to continue to attract leaders and champions. …. So, this will take us to 160 countries. Can you imagine 160 countries rocking the blue and white?” asked athletic director Eugene Marshall.

Four years ago, Hampton hit a milestone by becoming the first HBCU to add an NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse team and women’s soccer team, a sport that wasn’t even sponsored by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Incorporating the women’s triathlon into Hampton’s varsity sports roster will be a similar process. Hampton enjoys being championed as the “first and only.”

“This is another way to get the Hampton brand worldwide. This is a way to continue to attract leaders and champions. So, this will take us to 160 countries.”

USA Triathlon will help get the program up and running with a $225,000 grant that can be used over five years. Together, Hampton and USA Triathlon have both pledged to not only diversify the sport at the college level but also help the community on a grassroots youth level.

“I see USA Triathlon and Hampton University being a gateway into expanding our sport into the community and being groundbreaking on helping raise the participation numbers of African-Americans,” said Rocky Harris, USA Triathlon CEO. He and other USA Triathlon staff came to Hampton’s waterfront to announce the program.

Hampton will be the 26th school nationally to make the triathlon a varsity sport and the first school in the Big South to do so. For Tekemia Dorsey, the program couldn’t come soon enough. Dorsey is the founder and CEO of the International Association of Black Triathletes, as well as the only African-American female USA Triathlon Certified Race Director, Level 1, Youth & Junior and Youth & Junior ELITE coach in America.

“I cried when I found out Hampton would be the 26th school. You don’t know how much this means to me, my organization and my kids who are youth triathletes themselves,” Dorsey said.

“Being an HBCU grad myself [University of Maryland-Eastern Shore], I have been pushing for UMES, Coppin, Morgan State and even Howard to look into adding triathlon as a sport. The one thing I always kept hearing was, ‘Go talk to Hampton, see if Hampton will do it.’ So it all came full circle for me. Gives me a way to tell the inner-city youth you can go to an HBCU and excel at this sport, and academically.”

Hampton plans to have the triathlon program operational by the fall of 2019 and is looking to offer opportunities to six to eight prospective student-athletes to spearhead the program in year one and then work its way to 14 to 16 student-athletes for a full team roster. Local triathlon clubs and Hampton track coach Maurice Pierce will be asked to help find talent for the new team.

Athletic director Marshall will use the same approach taken to build the women’s soccer and men’s lacrosse teams: build it slowly and sustainably. There’s no timetable now on a schedule being set up, as the sport stretches across all three NCAA divisions and no other Big South school fields a team.

“Being local, living in Newport News, I would want to be involved in any way possible, in terms of helping find athletes, giving speeches or anything. But I hope to be involved, yes, 100 percent if I can,” said Sika Henry, an aspiring professional triathlete. She’s one of the few African-American women competing in the sport. Although she did not attend an HBCU, she has been vocal about the need for more diversity.

“Hampton is predominantly black, will be more visible and open doors for the next generation of African-American triathletes,” she said.

Even if other HBCUs don’t follow suit, Dorsey is pleased with the first step made by the university.

“Even if another HBCU doesn’t do it, we’re still in there. Thank you, Hampton University. This means a lot,” said Dorsey.