A former Virginia Tech soccer player has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that her coach verbally abused her and kicked her off the team after she declined to kneel before a game.

Kiersten Hening filed the lawsuit against coach Charles Adair last month, claiming Adair engaged in a “campaign of abuse and retaliation” after she declined to kneel before a game with her teammates.

Hening, a Virginia Tech junior, started on defense as a freshman and sophomore.

Although Adair endorsed the college’s plans for athletes to wear Black Lives Matter masks, wristbands, and armbands, Henning stood firm, according to the lawsuit.

“Hening’s stance was costly – too costly,” the lawsuit reads. “Her coach dislikes Hening’s political views. Because she refused to kneel, he benched her, subjected her to repeated verbal abuse, and forced her off the team.”

Hening’s lawsuit states: “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.” 

While other starters knelt as the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) read a unity statement before starting the season’s first game on Sept. 12, 2020, Hening remained standing.

“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,” ACC’s Unity Statement reads.

Hening claimed that, during the game’s halftime, “Coach Adair berated Hening for her stance. 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.’”

The other Hokie who did not kneel was not yelled at, according to the lawsuit, because she was on scholarship and her parents had called Adair and told him not to retaliate against their daughter for criticizing Black Lives Matter.

Hening was demoted from the starting lineup the next game and forced to play a role she had never played in college. Adair screamed at Hening again after the game during a film session, according to the lawsuit.

Hening did not start the following game, and she only played 5 minutes of the 90-minute game.

According to the suit, Adair must undergo “First Amendment training,” and Hening must be reinstated on the squad. 

The suit also seeks undisclosed monetary damages and expenses associated with the lawsuit.

“Coach Adair’s campaign of abuse and retaliation made conditions for Hening so intolerable that she felt compelled to resign. Hening did not want to leave,” the lawsuit reads.

Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, made history in 2016 when he became the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and institutional racism.

Following George Floyd’s death last year in Minneapolis, the act of protest has spread to every major sports league.


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