Cheerleader who knelt in national anthem protest goes viral

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer

A dancer for Georgia Tech’s football team has lent her support to NFL players protesting during the national anthem by retweeting a powerful photo of herself kneeling on the football field in protest.

Raianna Brown, seen kneeling on the football field in a national anthem protest, is going viral for reposting a photo from that day over the weekend. (Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

“Proudest & scariest moment as a yellow jacket happened at the same time. Thank you to @Kaepernick7 for inspiring [me] to #TakeaKnee to take a stand,” wrote Georgia Tech student and Yellow Jackets cheerleader Raianna Brown on Twitter, where she calls herself Issa Rai, on Saturday.

The tweet, which has had more than 31,000 retweets and 111,000 likes, features a photo of the cheerleaders on the field, presumably during the national anthem; all are standing tall with their hands over their hearts except for Brown, who is down on one knee.

Brown, who has not yet made herself available to speak with Yahoo Lifestyle, originally posted the photo of herself to Instagram in Oct. 2016, when it received 558 likes (a repost on Instagram on Sunday has attracted more than 3,000 likes). That’s when she was a member of Georgia Tech Gold Rush, the official dance team of the Yellow Jackets; a spokesperson for the university tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she is no longer a member.

While responses to her retweeted photo have been mixed, they’ve largely offered praise, with commenters calling her “brave,” “a hero,” and deserving of “so much respect.”

To the critic who commented, “Wow I actually hope that you lose your spot as a cheerleader and any scholarships you might have,” Brown responded, “I didn’t.”

The dancer was likely encouraged to retweet her photo in response to President Trump, who has ignited a wave of stepped-up demonstrations by repeatedly criticizing a movement among NFL players to either kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner” or skip it altogether as a way of protesting police brutality and other racial injustices.

Brown’s called-out inspiration, Colin Kaepernick, kicked off the movement last year, when he was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and began to kneel during the national anthem as a pro-equality statement.

And while many have since followed in his footsteps, more players than ever — along with some team owners — joined the protest movement over the weekend following Trump’s public rebukes.

Still, huge public statements haven’t traditionally come from the dancers or cheerleaders of a sports team. But there have been a few exceptions, including high school squad members who have spoken out for religious freedom or against being forced to do splits, as well as some NFL cheerleaders who have sued their teams for wages.

Brown, who studied dance at Emory University and industrial engineering at Georgia Tech, is co-founder and artistic director of RAIIN Dance Theater in Atlanta. That’s according to her website, which prominently features the following quote from Nina Simone: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”

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