Dodge County, GA – A high school cheerleading team’s t-shirt fundraiser has become a topic of heated debate, after critics deemed the attire “politically divisive” and racist.
“In Dodge County, we stand for the flag, kneel for the cross. That’s Indian Pride,” the shirt read, along with images of an American flag and a cross.
Heart of Georgia Signs and Tees designer Lisa Hartley said she has been designing the Dodge County High School cheerleaders’ fundraising shirts for several years, and that she generally presents the squad’s sponsors with three different designs to choose from each season, The Dodge County News reported.
“They pick what they want and approve it, and we make them,” said Hartley, who personally designed the shirt chosen this year.
“It was not meant to offend anyone or be racial. There was no hidden agenda in it,” she said. “For years, our football players have stood when the National Anthem is played, and they pray before the game. When a player gets hurt, they kneel. I considered that to mean that our Dodge County parents have raised their children right, and felt like it was respectful.”
The cheerleaders began selling the shirts on Aug. 10, but quickly ran into opposition after critics began posting photos and comments about the shirts on social media.
“The shirt sends a message of exclusion, not inclusion, and someone should have been able to recognize that,” former Dodge County student and current high school teacher Taelor Rye told The Dodge County News.
“People should keep in mind that purpose of the political protest that the shirt references [kneeling during the National Anthem] is to shed light on the injustices of police brutality, particularly toward Black people and other people of color – not to disrespect soldiers or veterans,” Rye added.
He then scolded those who did not agree with his perspective.
“I hope that everyone who does not see the problems with the design and distribution of the shirt can recognize that other perspectives exist and that they are valid,” Rye said. “We should all work to be more empathetic, more compassionate, and more accepting.”
In a since-deleted Facebook post, Dodge County School Board member Shirley Ikedionwu referred to the shirts as “exclusionary” and “offensive,” FOX News reported.
“This shirt is not only one-sided but offensive,” Ikedionwu railed. “I can’t imagine how our children would feel entering a place that is supposed to be welcoming and accepting of students from all walks of life, beliefs, and perspectives – but instead, they are faced with this type of exclusionary message.”
Resident Deneen McCloud agreed, but took her argument even a step further.
"It stands for the hurt of black people getting killed, beat by police officers, and getting off with it. So therefore, we as black people, some of us have taken that, to us, that's what it looks like," McLeod told WMAZ.
According to FOX News, Ikedionwu said that she voiced her concerns about the t-shirts to school administrators, and that she successfully got the fundraiser shut down.
“At this point, the shirt will no longer be sold,” the school board member declared.
But some community members had a different idea – and simply began selling the shirt off-campus.
People have been purchasing the shirts directly from Hartley’s shop, and surrounding counties have also contacted her wanting the shirt design for their schools, The Dodge County News reported.
White Hat Auto manager Nikki Mullis, whose business began selling the shirts to help the team, said that people from all over the world have contacted her to help out with the fundraiser.
On Thursday, she shipped three shirts to Afghanistan, she said.
“I’m standing because it has the United States flag on it and the cross. Those are two things I will back any day of the week,” Mullis told FOX News. “This ain’t just Georgia anymore. We are a community that when something happens, we are all together.”
Resident Bill Tripp said he saw nothing wrong with the shirt, and that it simply represented the culture of the area.
“The South is known for being the Bible Belt,” Tripp said, according to FOX News. “If you can’t stand for the flag and you can’t stand for the cross – I don’t know what you can stand for.”
School Superintendent Michael Ward said that the t-shirts do not violate the school’s dress code, and that they will not prohibit students from wearing them, WMAZ reported.
"There's no violation of anything right now. As long as it's not vulgar or obscene, they're within the dress code policy," Ward said.