Hokies Women’s Soccer Player Sues Virginia Tech Coach Over Kneeling
Lawsuit claims soccer player was benched and subjected to repeated verbal abuse before being forced off team
A former Hokies soccer player is suing the Virginia Tech women’s soccer head coach for allegedly forcing her off the team after she refused to kneel with teammates prior to a game last autumn. Kiersten Hening, a former starting defender and midfielder for the Hokies, has filed a federal lawsuit against Virginia Tech head women’s soccer coach Charles “Chugger” Adair, a former professional soccer player who has been the head coach at Virginia Tech since 2011.
The lawsuit, which was filed on March 3 in the Roanoke Division of the United States District Court’s Western District of Virginia, alleges that Adair “benched her, subjected her to repeated verbal abuse, and forced her off the team,” according to WSLS-TV. The suit claims that Adair’s actions violated Hening’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The lawsuit alleges that Hening’s refusal to kneel is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Hening, a junior at Virginia Tech, is labeled as a “talented defender” who started nearly all of the Hokies’ games in her freshman and sophomore seasons, according to the suit. As a freshman, Hening appeared in all 22 games and started in 19 of them. As a sophomore, she appeared in all 19 matches, was a starter in the last 18 contests, and had the second-most minutes played among field players, according to the Hokies women’s soccer website.
Hening was featured multiple times in the Hokies Women’s Soccer 2019 season highlights video uploaded to YouTube by the Virginia Tech Athletics account.
Hening, a former star soccer player at James River High School, claims Coach Adair launched into a “campaign of abuse and retaliation” after she refused to kneel before the team’s season-opening game on Sept. 12, 2020, against the Virginia Cavaliers.
“While her teammates knelt during the pregame reading of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s unity pledge — a show of support for the social justice movement and Black Lives Matter — Hening and one other unidentified player remained standing,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“Coach Adair berated Hening for her stance” during halftime of the game, the lawsuit states. “He singled her out and verbally attacked her, pointing a finger directly in her face. He denounced Hening for ‘bitching and moaning,’ for being selfish and individualistic, and for ‘doing her own thing.'”
Because of Coach Adair’s decision, Hening didn’t start in the Hokies’ next match against Clemson on Sept. 17 and did not start in the third game of the season on Sept. 20. After not starting in consecutive games, Hening left the program.
— Iruk (@IRUKLugo) September 18, 2020
The 21-year-old Hening said Adair “made conditions for Hening so intolerable that she felt compelled to resign,” despite not wanting to leave the team.
As reported in Outkick:
The lawsuit alleges that on September 1, 2020, a student-athlete advisory committee discussed proposals for student-athletes to wear BLM COVID masks, BLM wristbands, armbands and BLM shirts during warmups. The soccer team discussed the proposal and “most” players supported the idea. Hening claims Adair supported the proposals and went even further with an idea to replace “Hokies” on the back of the team uniform with the names of alleged victims of police misconduct.
“Hening’s stance was costly — too costly,” the suit says. “Her coach dislikes Hening’s political views.”
Hening says she “supports social justice and believes black lives matter” but “does not support the BLM organization.”
“While Hening supports social justice and believes that black lives matter, she does not support the BLM organization,” the lawsuit reads. “She disagrees with its tactics and core tenets of its mission statement, including defunding the police and eliminating the nuclear family.”
Hening is seeking the following:
- A judgment that Adair violated both her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights
- The ability to rejoin the team without any adverse action against her for exercising her First Amendment rights
- Have Adair undergo First Amendment training
- Compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages
- Her legal fees
Adair, who is the Hokies’ all-time winningest coach at 126-62-20, declined to comment on the lawsuit. He is being represented by Virginia Tech attorneys. The university is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Athletes kneeling before sporting events became a major powder-keg issue in 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said at the time. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Following the police-involved death of George Floyd last summer, kneeling before games as a sign of protest against police brutality and a call for racial justice was carried out by players of professional and amateur sports leagues.
Author: Paul Sacca