Kiersten Hening, a former Virginia Tech University soccer player, is taking her ex-coach to federal court because he allegedly subjected the athlete to verbal abuse and benched her because she wouldn’t take a knee during the pre-game reading of an Atlantic Coast Conference unity pledge.
The result was she left the team after just three games into the 2020 season.
“While Hening supports social justice and believes that black lives matter, she does not support the BLM organization. She disagrees with its tactics and core tenets of its mission statement, including defunding the police and eliminating the nuclear family,” the lawsuit alleges, WSLS News 10 of Roanoke, Va., reported.
The incident reportedly occurred on September 12, 2020, the season opener. At halftime, Coach Charles “Chugger” Adair allegedly berated her for “being selfish and individualistic” and for “doing her own thing.” In the next game, he removed Hening from the starting lineup.
In that game, he also sent her in to play a position for which she had never played at the collegiate level. He also yelled at her during a post-game film session. In the third game, Hening — a walk-on who became a starter in her first two years on the team — only received five minutes of playing time.
Hening reluctantly exited the team on September 20 because of the coach’s alleged “campaign of abuse and retaliation,”
Kiersten Hening only named Adair and not Virginia Tech as a defendant in the federal lawsuit (although legal pleadings can be amended if necessary) that is just surfacing in the media.
Although it may not apply in this case, in general, an employer is usually regarded as bearing some legal responsibility for the actions of an employee and often is listed as a separate defendant.
University lawyers are reportedly representing Adair.
An early September team discussion in which the players seemed receptive to wear BLM gear such as masks, wristbands, armbands, and shirts during warmup activities may have led up to this controversy.
“According to the lawsuit, Adair was strongly supportive of the ACC’s equality pledge and even suggested having players wear the names of victims of alleged police misconduct on their jerseys, and that his direct supervisor, senior associate athletic director Reyna Gilbert-Lowery, ‘is a vocal supporter of (Black Lives Matter.),'” the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported.
Adair also allegedly supported players who wanted to kneel, a symbolic gesture from which Hening “quietly dissented.”
In the case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Hening requested a jury trial, seeks reinstatement to the team, along with unspecified money damages, and reimbursement for her legal fees.
More importantly, perhaps, she reportedly seeks a court order that establishes that the coach violated her First Amendment free-speech rights and 14th Amendment rights that guarantee equal protection.
These constitutional principles could apply because Virginia Tech is a public university, keeping in mind that any lawsuit complaint contains a one-sided narrative before the other party gets to respond. Accordingly, she also wants Coach Adair to receive First Amendment training.
The ACC Unity Statement reads that “We, the ACC, are committed to seeing each other as equals, supporting each other, and treating each other with respect and dignity at all times, recognizing that our differences don’t divide us, but they make us stronger.”
In another wrinkle, one of Hening’s teammates also remained standing, but allegedly never was subject to any harassment because she was on scholarship and her parents had supposedly warned the coach against undertaking retaliation against her.
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