Free Speech

College Soccer Player Suing Coach Who Benched Her After She Refused to Kneel During Protest

Punishing players for kneeling, or not kneeling, is a First Amendment violation at public universities.

|

Kiersten Hening was a star midfielder on the Virginia Tech women's soccer team—until she refused to kneel in protest with her teammates. Now Hening is suing her coach for pressuring her off of the team and violating her First Amendment rights. As a public university, Virginia Tech is responsible for upholding constitutional rights just like any other government entity.

Tensions began rising in early September 2020 when a Virginia Tech student athlete advisory committee decided that players would wear Black Lives Matter (BLM) shirts, face masks, wristbands, and armbands during warmups.

The initiative was endorsed by most of Hening's teammates. Her coach, Charlie Adair, even proposed replacing the team name on their uniforms with names of victims of police violence.

Hening dissented. While she "supports social justice and believes that black lives matter," according to her lawsuit, "she disagrees with [BLM's] tactics and core tenets of its mission statement, including defunding the police and eliminating the nuclear family." 

She voiced those concerns in a text message to her teammates, some of whom sent screenshots to Adair demanding that the coach address "the fact that some of his players were 'racist' and did not support BLM."

The conflict escalated at a September 12 game against the University of Virginia, when Hening's teammates knelt during the reading of a unity pledge developed by the Atlantic Coast Conference's committee for racial and social justice. Hening remained standing, an act she claims sparked a "campaign of abuse."

According to Hening, she was "verbally attacked" by her coach at halftime. Adair "singled her out and directly attacked her, pointing a finger in her face," the lawsuit reads. "He denounced Hening for 'bitching and moaning,' for being selfish and individualistic, and for 'doing her own thing.'"

Adair then benched Hening. Before the incident, she acted as a media spokesperson for the team and had played the most minutes of any athlete on the team. At the September 12 game, however, she played a total of five minutes.

Hening alleges she was continuously targeted by Adair and received considerably fewer minutes of playing time in ensuing games. By September 20, she had reached her breaking point: "Coach Adair's campaign of abuse and retaliation made conditions for Hening so intolerable that she felt compelled to resign," her lawsuit states. "Hening did not want to leave."

In March, Hening filed the federal lawsuit against Adair, claiming his treatment violated her right to expressive conduct protected by the First and 14th Amendments. "Hening's stance was costly—too costly," the suit 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 is suing Adair for undisclosed compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages. She also is seeking reinstatement on the soccer team and requesting that Adair receives training on the First Amendment.

"There would be a clearer and easier case if the coach said, 'You're off the team because you did the following,' but that's not always how things work in reality," says Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "The question is whether there's retaliation and consequences, and, in this case, the result was her being harassed by the coach."

A similar incident occurred in 2017 when five cheerleaders at Kennesaw State University in Georgia knelt during the national anthem. They were subsequently prohibited from appearing on the field at home games. In 2019, one of the cheerleaders received a $145,000 settlement for the violation of her right to expressive conduct.

The right to protest and the right to abstain when protesting is the popular choice are both equally safeguarded by the First Amendment. "No matter what your views are on kneeling during the national anthem," says Steinbaugh, "when we violate the rights of one person, we jeopardize the rights of everyone."

NEXT: The CDC's Guidance for Summer Camps Is Insane

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

    1. Stale-thinking clingers have rights, too.

      Although not the right to the respect of a coach or teammate.

      1. You should know all about getting no respect Rodney.

        1. JOB FOR USA Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are much better SDW than regular office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
          on this page…..VISIT HERE

      2. forced religion at a public college? I’d take it just for the pub.

        1. After Quiting my office job I was looking for a job which is not only financially benificial but also less time consuming so that I spend some time with my family. After a lot of research I noticed that only online work has that kind of credibility. But in past two years I Worked at many sites and all of them were spammer. But for the last 4 months I have been working on a website which is not only Popular world wide but also US certified. I am earning upto 15000 dollars a month by working only 2 hours a day. Go to Home MEDIA TECH INFO TAB for further information
          JOBS APP

      3. You are a scumbag.

      4. You’re the poster child for bringing back McCarthyism. Committed marxists, such as yourself, should be cleansed from America.

      5. Says the guy who’s obviously in favor of employers and coworkers creating a hostile work environment in order to get someone to quit so they can’t collect unemployment. You’re a shrewd one mister Grinch.

  1. We must all be taught to kneel on command. And never question why.

  2. To quote Ted Buckland, “girlfriend’s gonna get paid!”

  3. I’m not sure benching a player is the same as kicking her off the team. Coaches should be free to bench players for failing to participate in team fights, not attending a team party, or for spreading rumors and being a cancer in the locker room. A team needs to have a certain sense of cohesiveness in order to perform well, and managing that is part of coach’s job.

    1. “A team needs to have a certain sense of cohesiveness in order to perform well, and managing that is part of coach’s job.”

      This is true. But does that mean one must be forced to appear to support a political opinion with which one disagrees?

      1. A team needs to win. I’d like to know what the record was b4 and after this incident. Then we can talk. Btw, if your one who believes participation is it’s own reward, we don’t need to talk at all

        1. I don’t really care if she is the “Star” of the team or the water-carrier. Punishing a student for refusing to parrot a political position, if that is, indeed, what happened here, has no place in a public institution.

    2. Yeah, I think I want to see more of the evidence before rendering a verdict. Emote has a track record of overlooking details that later get ‘discovered’.

      1. I agree it is best to be skeptical of these types of stories.

      2. I kind of think we are losing the thread on this one. I mean, you have a university sports team that is taking an activist position on political issues. As a team.

        That seems objectionable. I mean, I think I would have similar objections if the sociology department decided that being in the sociology department meant that everyone was going to be an activist for some unrelated issue too. I don’t really want my government paying for political activism.

        1. I don’t really want my government paying for political activism.

          That ship sailed long ago.

          1. doesn’t mean he has to get on board

    3. Keep politics off the field.

    4. Imagine the rage if the coach had benched her for refusing to kneel in prayer.

      1. Imaginary response to an imaginary situation. How about keeping to what actually happened, scarecrow?

    5. Yeah, Ken, it’s pretty stupid to have a jihad like you all were having because someone kneels— or refuses to kneel— before some dumb flag. We’re all supposed to be libertarians here so— fucking a— let’s get first principles correct. We can at least agree on those.

      1. You’re not a libertarian. You’re a Marxist traitor who should be lawfully executed for your Marxism.

      2. We are keeping to principles. Private companies retain the right to do whatever the hell they want as far as this is concerned, this however, is not a private institution, and therefore has a duty to protect her constitutional rights.

    6. I generally agree with a lot of your posts. However… I think you may have scored an “own goal” on this one in some respects.

      The coach has a responsibility for maintaining the integrity and cohesion of the team. By allowing a large group to do things that costs the social inclusion of the presumptively star player seems like bad coaching. He should have used his position and prerogative to keep divisive things out of the locker room so as to maintain the team relationship. By engaging in the divisive activities himself (either directly, through promotion, or allowance) he failed to do his job.

      ALSO… if this were a private club, you would be right. But since it is a public university organization, the coach has higher obligations in addition to those coaching ones you mentioned, namely those of upholding the Constitution and not, by being an agent of the state, trampling the rights of citizens.

      1. Yup. Especially since her message was so conciliatory in response to increasingly absurd demands.

        A player throws a hissy fit because she doesn’t want to wear a black arm band or a black jersey for a game? Have a seat.

        A female player expresses concern over wearing a jersey with the name of a black man who violated a restraining order against his girlfriend? That blame falls squarely on the coach for not nipping that shit in the bud before it got to that point.

    7. First of all, respect for taking a critical look at this despite the culture war red meat. Second, I think issue is that a public university team is punishing a player for refusing to participate in political activism. Really public institutions should be as politically neutral as possible, though I get that is hardly enforced. The team could have avoided the cohesion issue by not requiring players to participate in divisive and controversial political activity.

    8. A team needs to have a certain sense of cohesiveness in order to perform well, and managing that is part of coach’s job.

      What part of printing other peoples’ names on jersies generates cohesion?

      1. Fall in line or get sent to the gulag. Cohesion is maintained through threat of force.

    9. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

  4. What if it’s a set play to replace the Old Glory with the the Raised Fist on Rainbow flag? Do players have a right to toss out the playbook without consequence?

    1. A fist on a rainbow flag. Mapplethorpe would be jealous.

      1. I’m sure he’s jealous whenever there is a fitting he’s not party to. I’m sure he sees himself as the belle of the ball.

    2. I agree with the administration and coaching staffs decision to force women to play against male athletes and only allowing them to wear the names of irrelevant men on their jersies. Joan of Arc would be proud.

  5. The initiative was endorsed by most of Hening’s teammates. Her coach, Charlie Adair, even proposed replacing the team name on their uniforms with names of victims of police violence.

    Any bets on how quickly this coach is caught forcing women into bathrooms and making them watch him masturbate? Woke fuck. You know he’s doing that shit.

    1. Can she get a white victim of police violence’s name on her shirt?

      1. best comment of the thread

      2. Why don’t they just put “Everything Is So Terrible And Unfair!”(tm) on the jerseys? Think of how many more issues they could pander to!

        “Climate justice” guilt.
        Racial guilt. (If you’re white)
        Racial grievance (if you’re not)
        “Income inequality” grievance
        Transphobe grievance.

        C’mon people, let’s consolidate here. Inefficiency is a thief. Haha.

  6. While she “supports social justice and believes that black lives matter,” according to her lawsuit,

    Wasn’t necessary to say. People need to stop with the “to be sures” It just makes you look weak and mealy-mouthed.

    1. And for the record, I DON’T support “social justice” because it’s an immoral and invalid concept in a free society built on liberty.

      1. “Social justice” is exactly what the KKK, Nazism, etc were all about.
        “Nuh uh, that wasn’t social justice!”
        It was to them.

        1. Which SJW’s are worse, the Klan, or the progtards?

          1. Similarly bad, but the KKK can safely be ignored right now.

            1. That’s a bingo!

              1. You guys got it. I’m so tired of the whataboutism i get from my crypto-woke “rationalist” friends. Every time i bring up something bad its, “yeah but XYZ did ABC!”. I’ve started calling it the “But Pol Pot” fallacy.

                Ex:

                Me: “Jesus, look at what the CCP is doing to Uyghurs”

                Cryptowoke Authoritarian Doucherod: “Yeah, but Pol Pot killed like, 1.5 million people!”

                Me: “What the fuck does that have to do with i was just talking”

                Cryptowoke Authoritarian Doucherod: “Insane rambling gibberish about ‘rationality’ and bayesian statistics”

        2. Yeah, one of Frank Miller’s more insightful observations was the confusion of what is fashionable with what is right by pointing out that, for 300 yrs., The Spanish Inquisition was doing what it thought was right.

    2. In the specific case of the words “black lives matter”, once must distinguish the idea from the organization somehow.

  7. Had a trans player done this, she would have been applauded for her courage.

    1. No. Politics trumps everything. Refer to the treatment of black conservatives.

    2. No….see Caitlyn Jenner

      1. At least she might be recognized for superior ball handling skills.

        1. I’m sure some version of Jenner has appeared on the inter dimensional cable show, Ball Fondlers.

          1. Fun Fact: “Progressives” (ALWAYS in quotes) can now purport that Bruce Jenner was the “first woman” to appear on a box of Wheaties.

            1. Why gamble money you don’t have on a payout that will only cover your expenses? First woman to win the men’s decathlon.

  8. It’s no longer a brave protest if you are punished for not doing it.

    Up is down, left is right, cats and dogs living together in harmony, etc.

    1. It may not be brave, but it is stunning.

  9. Bend the knee: it’s not just a metaphor any more.

  10. Yet another reason to eliminate women’s soccer. It causes racism.
    No Men’s or Women’s teams, just one soccer team for all students; just like Title IX says.

    1. Unfortunately, title IX has been interpreted to mean that they have to have equal numbers, not just equal opportunities. So you are still back to quotas on the team. Your co-ed soccer team would have to have five and a half men and five and a half women on the field. That is the only way to have equal numbers in that sport. So I suppose you have to have at least one transgender athlete on the field at all times.

      1. No. According to the supreme court, there are no longer men or women.
        Not a co-ed team, just one soccer team, open to all. The best players get on the team. That’s it.

  11. It is amazing how quickly kneeling turned from an individual right to protest to an obligatory group activity. The hypocrisy is rather astounding.

    1. The hypocrisy is rather astounding.

      Except, not really.

  12. It sounds like she’s met PC Principal.

    1. Indeed.

  13. Give her scholarship to a man who thinks he’s a woman.

    1. This might be a good time for the cable networks to trot out that led film ‘Victor/Victoria’.

  14. Joining in BLM protests is fundamentally a racist action.

    The only people that need to know that black lives matter are black people and that knowledge already exists among most black people. They know that their lives matter and do not need to be affirmed in that knowledge by white people. There is absolutely no good reason to think that their lives do not matter. There may be injustices and acts of racism but nothing can diminish the absolute truth that their lives matter. Even in their most oppressed history they never lost the dignity of knowing that their lives matter as much as anyone’s.

    White people also suffer injustices but do not seek subsequent affirmation about whether their lives matter to anyone else. The fight for any injustice is predicated on the inalienable belief that your life matters to you.

    Black people who seek affirmation that their life matters do so because they are insecure in that belief. The only one who needs to know and believe that to the core of your being is you and no one can give or take away that belief.

    White people who take part in BLM protests are saying that black people need the affirmation of white people that their lives matter. They do not and no one does. Their participation in such protests is based on a racist view that black people need support that no one else does.

    1. YEP. The only 3 groups of people who need to read your message – and would benefit from it (although you’ve edified us, and others, who already realize what you do) – are:
      1) Of course, European-American “progressives” (Always in quotes) who only see color, base their thinking, beliefs, and actions on color – and those actions on self-aggrandizement as well, and condescend & patronize others because of their, different, color. All of which are self-centered and, TRULY, Racist
      2) The scores of people living within the concrete plantations across our nation that the “Democrat(ic) Socialists” / Socialists established and have run for Decades, who commit black on black robbery, beatings, burglary, rape, maiming, and murder on a DAILY Basis
      3) The Burners-of-buildings, Looting Murderers who have Burnt down homes & businesses, vandalized & Looted stores, and Murdered law abiding black citizens – All within black communities who desperately needed & need all 3 of these things, and have done so across the nation for the entire past Year. I’m of course talking about “BLM” – also aka Bald-face Lying Marxists; Bull-sh*ttin’ Leftist Malcontents; Building-burning, Looting Murderers; and the list of true descriptions of this Anti-Republic, Anti-Family, Marxist, Self-enriching, TRULY Racist group goes on & on.

  15. A coach can choose who’s on the team. If she was on scholarship she shouldn’t lose it, but she can be removed from the team if the coach wants.

    She seems like a fascist, christian cunt.

    1. If she wouldn’t kneel, then probably not a leftist, so therefore not a fascist.

      1. I suggest you look up fascism in an encyclopedia.

        1. it pretty clearly aligns with Democrats

        2. National Socialist German Workers’ Party

          What part of “socialist”, or “workers’ party” sounds right wing to you?
          Just because lots of people think fascism is right wing does mean fascism is not a left wing practice.
          Like pretending “decimate” means total destruction instead of a 10% reduction, saying fascism is right wing is just wrong.

          1. Economically, Nazis were certainly left. But the nationalistic social and militarist aspects I think can fairly be called right-wing.

            1. You can say that as much as you want. These fascists don’t listen or lie about it.

              1. Hi KARen!

                Haha. A guy who wants to KillAll….. whatever, is talking about fascism. Too funny.

                What a doosh.

    2. A public university can’t discriminate based on political views. This isn’t a case of “well it’s a private institution and it can do what it wants”.

    3. A coach can choose who’s on the team. If she was on scholarship she shouldn’t lose it, but she can be removed from the team if the coach wants.

      Not entirely. Even when Gene Hackman did it in Hoosiers, he was rightfully sweating bullets and staring down the end of his career until they won. Moreover, he couldn’t bench a black girl because she was black.

  16. She should have worn a shirt that said “eliminate the nuclear family “

    1. This country would be better off if evangelical, conservative christians stopped breeding.

      1. It would definitely be better if someone blew your head off with a shotgun. Maybe the. Mormons will hunt you down. That would be good.

        1. How chistian of you.

          You fascists want to impose a state religion.

          As a red blooded, freedom loving patriot I believe in freedom of religion.

          However your religion can’t infringe on my rights. That’s why mormons need to go.

          1. That’s rich. He says “You people” want to impose a state religion, while defending a state employee who visits abuse upon a student for refusing to kneel to the new gods.

            1. I think its stupid to kick a player off a team for not kneeling, but she’s most likely a far right cunt.

              Mark is a fascist traitor.

              1. No, I’m a patriot. I’m as incapable of treason as you are of patriotism. As no progressive can be a patriot, only a traitor.

                1. No. You supported a coup attempt against our government.

                  You’re a traitor.

          2. I’m not Christian.

            1. What are you? Other than a traitor of course.

      2. If they stopped breeding, who would pay your bills?

        1. I would. Like I do now

      3. And it would be WAY better off if you stuck your head in a woodchipper

    2. The above escalated quickly. And this is why Reason won’t less us have our woodchippers back.

  17. Maybe we should just stop having mandatory, public ceremonies to pay obeisance to the state before sporting events.

    1. No national anthems were mentioned in the article or seem to be involved. There was some sort of unity pledge and the prescribed wearing of political talismans

    2. Oh, right you are! I skimmed past the setup portion of the article and assumed it was during the national anthem.

      I still stand by not playing the anthem for every little event.

  18. We should just stop playing the national anthem at sporting events. What does it have to do with sports?

    1. who is ‘we’?

  19. That’s not what that is. Nor is the what patriotism is about.

  20. There is no “i” in team. But there is in fascist.

    1. And in Twinkie! Think about it..,. Deep, right?

    2. You can’t spell “win” without the “i”.

    3. Except fascism was anti-individualist…

      1. thatsthejoke.gif

  21. For an ostensibly libertarian website Reasons installation of bigotry mute user buttons demonstrates the shallowness of their principles.

    In an environment of “free speech” you don’t get to “mute” counter arguments that you don’t want to hear.

    It’s a sad day for 1a at Reason.

    1. On the other hand, to be sure, you can have the personal choice of association guaranteed by the US Constitution.
      I know you might not have noticed, but there a few posters here that do not use “counter arguments”, but use personal attacks and vitriol.

      1. I understand that people choose to be bigots.

        I just think it’s pathetic that a website that ostensibly advocates free speech and rational debate provides a convenient “bigotry” button.

        If anyone needs to see counter arguments, bigots do.

        1. But bigots, just like everyone else, also have the right to put fingers in their ear and say “nah nah nah nah… I’m not listening!”

          That’s what a mute button does. A right to free speech is not the right to unfettered access to other people’s ears.

          1. I might understand that if the website were named “bigots-r-us”, but bigotry isn’t reasonable or rational.

            It is a button intended to advocate and enable uncivilized bigotry.

            It’s pathetic, like so many tenets of the “woke” cancel culture.

            1. Can you please explain to me how being a holocaust denier is not bigoted?

    2. I think they added it due to the proliferation of spamming from bots.

  22. This an objective ,That seems objectionable. I mean, I think I would have similar objections if the sociology department decided that being in the sociology department meant that everyone was going to be an activist for some unrelated issue too. I don’t really want my
    https://wapexclusive.com ,government paying for political activism.

  23. Forcing soccer players to not only kneel in support of a radical political movement but to wear racist paraphernalia in support of a racist domestic terrorist organization? WTF has our society become?

    The coach and any enablers should be fired. The victimized student should be reinstated on the team and receive millions in damages from the scumbag coaches and school.

  24. Where are the feminists to denounce the coach for bullying this young woman?

    -jcr

    1. At a BLM “peaceful protest”?

  25. …that day Gov-Guns showed up at Virginia Tech.

  26. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, along with most other rulers would agree with Adair that being individualistic and selfish should be punished. Only one political paradigm promotes the individual over the collective, as evidenced by The Declaration of Independence when it says, “all men are created equal”, meaning all people are sovereign, no one, no group, is politically superior to the the smallest minority, the individual.
    This is anti-democratic, anti-collectivist. And Individualism is the only paradigm compatible with rights, reason, choice.

  27. Politics should never have been introduced into sports. This includes boycotting the Olympics, kneeling during the national anthem. Sports should simply be a safe space where we forget about politics and focus on sport. Sports should unify not divide.

  28. I like that she was attacked “for being selfish and individualistic, and for ‘doing her own thing.'”

    Beautiful girl, on the inside and out. Wonder if she has a boyfriend.

  29. The BLM is nothing but a terrorist shakedown organisation.
    I hope she wins her suit and that part of the schools settlement is that they have to change the school name to Hening College.

  30. I wouldn’t want back in on a team like that. The reality is the courts aren’t equipped for the culture war. Sue to get your money back from the POS school, go somewhere else and stop playing into this system. You want change? Stop giving Marxists your time and money.

  31. The irony of an athlete being punished for refusing to kneel is delicious.

  32. Where is the obligatory disclaimer that this doesn’t apply to private business? If I ran a business I’ll fire anyone who tries to talk BLM to customers against their wishes.

    Kneeling during the national anthem is the rough equivalent of someone rapping during moments of silence or during a funeral. It’s a gesture of disrespect and disunity, it’s meant to slight an entire nation or a group of people. If I turned my back on a civil rights parade, the left would outraged. It has no place in a sports team of a publicly funded university.

    What about 1A? What about it? Are players allowed to put stickers on their uniforms? Maybe wear a swatstika patch on their arms? Make endorsement deals with companies? Make comments on non school public platform without being punished? What process did these schools go through to formally approve of players kneeling or wearing BLM approval?

    BLM is a TERRORIST organization. They target police (both literally and rhetorically) just like some white nationalists target Jews and immigrants. They behave and rationalize identically. BLM partially owns rising attacks on Asians. It has NO PLACE in a school.

    As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with schools requiring students to stand during anthems or behave respectfully in certain ceremonies AND allowing them not participate in social justice measures by their classmates. Public schools aren’t libertarian, they’re already allowed certain leeway in forming dress and speech codes according to their moral subjective standard.

    1. “Where is the obligatory disclaimer that this doesn’t apply to private business? ”

      The disclaimer is the statement of a “public university” as opposed to a private one unless you wish to equate private and public entities.

Please to post comments