In what can be considered a win for free speech a judge has ruled that a former Virginia Tech women’s soccer player may continue a lawsuit she filed against her former coach where she claims she was pressured to leave the team for making her own personal decision to refuse to kneel during the pregame national anthem to protest in solidarity with BLM and their social justice cause.
Kiersten Hening, who plays for the Hokies and was midfielder/defender from 2018 to 2020, sued Hokie coach Charles “Chugger” Aidair back in 2021 on violation of her god given and constitutionally protected First Amendment right. Federal Judge Thomas Cullen agreed and announced on December 2nd of this year that the trial can proceed, as reported on the NY Post.
“Hening further explained in the lawsuit that while she “supports social justice and believes that black lives matter,” she “does not support BLM the organization,” citing its “tactics and core tenets of its mission statement, including defunding the police.”
After Hening declined to kneel during a reading of a “unity statement” before a game against UVA on Sept. 12, 2020, she said Adair “verbally attacked” her at halftime, claiming she was “b–tching and moaning” while jabbing a finger in her face.
The coach continued to berate Hening until he benched her and ultimately made things so intolerable that she felt compelled to quit the team, according to the suit.
“Hening, who had been a major on-field contributor for two years prior to the 2020 season, also asserts that Adair removed her from the starting lineup for the next two games and drastically reduced her playing time in those games because she had engaged in this protected First Amendment activity. As a result, Hening resigned from the team after the third game of the season,” Cullen noted in his recent ruling.”
Although the coach argued that the two players who refused to kneel did not face any reduction in playing time the motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied.
“Ultimately, Adair may convince a jury that this coaching decision was based solely on Hening’s poor play during the UVA game, but the court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Hening, cannot reach that conclusion as a matter of law,” ruled Cullen, who said the issues in the case are fundamental.
“While the US Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit may not have addressed the novel factual circumstances presented here—i.e., a college coach allegedly retaliating against a player for refusing to kneel with her coaches and teammates in support of perceived unity and social justice—the core constitutional principle is both clearly established and fundamental to a free society, and especially to an institution of higher education,” Cullen wrote.”
Was this a case of just benching a player over her performance? Or was it retaliation for refusing to kneel with the rest of the team? This trial might take a while but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Photo: Hokies screencap