A Virginia college soccer player contends in a lawsuit that her former coach demoted her and eventually forced her from the team because she refused to kneel in support of Black Lives Matter.
Kiersten Hening, who is white and a former three-year starter on the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team, alleges in a federal lawsuit against her former coach, Charles “Chugger” Adair, that “because she refused to kneel, he benched her, subjected her to repeated verbal abuse and forced her off the team.”
The incident occurred last fall, according to court records.
In the lawsuit, Hening traces the origin of the controversy to Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem in 2016.
“By 2020,” Hening’s lawsuit says, “it was well understood that kneeling before a game communicated support for Kaepernick’s message and the organization that had become the face of that message: Black Lives Matter.”
“Especially in 2020, kneeling before a sporting event is loaded with political, social, cultural, and symbolic meaning,” court records say.
Then last fall, before the team’s opening game against Virginia, the team was supposed to kneel as a “unity statement,” drafted by the Atlantic Coast Conference, was read.
No one was told what it would say. So, Hening and one other player remained standing.
Yet, “Hening’s stance was costly – too costly.”
The lawsuit notes that by last summer BLM “became known for encouraging protests that often turned violent. It also adopted radical, positions like defunding the police and eliminating ‘the Western-prescribed nuclear family.’”
In court records, Hening says her former coach and teammates mostly accepted and backed BLM’s position on social-justice issues and discussed how to demonstrate that support.
But Hening reportedly shared her opposition to BLM “quietly” with some of her teammates. These messages were then shown to coaches, and other players became “outraged” when they learned of Hening’s position. Those players alleged that Hening was a “racist” for not supporting BLM.
“The coaches speculated, mockingly, that some of the players and their families probably thought ‘All Lives Matter,’” the lawsuit notes.
After Hening refused to stand at the first game, the coach began to berate her, to the point that “teammates approached her afterward to comfort her and express their shock.” The other player who refused to kneel was not treated similarly because she was reportedly a scholarship player and her parents had notified the coach in advance not to “retaliate” for her opposition to BLM.
Hening, who had been the team leader in minutes played during the past two seasons, was benched for subsequent games and played sparingly. Meanwhile, Adair’s “campaign of abuse and retaliation” continued to the point where Hening felt compelled to leave the team, the lawsuit says.
Hening’s lawyers maintain her rights under the First and 14th Amendments were violated and she seeks unspecified damages.
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