Conservatives won a nice court victory last week. Just before Christmas it was reported that the soccer player Kiersten Hening won the first stage of a case against her former Virginia Tech coach, who allegedly benched her for refusing to kneel for Black Lives Matter prior to the team’s 2020 season opener. In denying the coach’s attempt to have the case thrown out, the Trump-appointed judge in the Western District of Virginia stated there was enough evidence for Hening to proceed with her claim of First Amendment Retaliation. This past week it was announced that Virginia Tech attorneys acting for the coach, former U.S. soccer league player Charles “Chugger” Adair, have reached a $100,000 settlement with Hening, a bachelor of science major who has since graduated.
While likely not enough to cover Hening’s legal bills or compensate her for the verbal abuse and intimidation she also suffered from her coach (who still retains his nearly $200,000-a-year position at Virginia Tech), the win is still a big one for conservatives in their ongoing fight against political-opinion discrimination.
The facts of Hening’s case are important, as they have surely played out hundreds of times across the country since the 2020 death of George Floyd and the attendant rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. According to last month’s interim decision, Adair, who is white, forced the mostly white Virginia Tech women’s soccer squad to kneel for the black nationalist BLM movement while a “Unity Statement” was read over loudspeakers prior to kickoff. The statement, which had just become mandatory for all games within the conference as part of a greater program of “diversity and inclusion training for all student-athletes,” read as follows: “We … 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.”
Apparently failing to treat Hening with “respect and dignity,” Adair reacted to Hening’s refusal to kowtow by “berating” her both during and after the game and then largely benching her over the next two games. Clearly in response to Adair’s intimidation, Hening did kneel “in support” of BLM during the following two games.
In a pre-trial hearing, Adair denied that Hening’s refusal to kneel and his treatment of her were connected, relying on the rather odd defense that he was somehow unaware she had stayed standing on the field while everyone else was kneeling (a claim that is belied by photos showing him looking in her direction) and that her “beratement” was only related to her “poor play.” Hening, according to one expert witness, had been a top player on the team, having started in dozens of previous games and playing most of them in full.
In response to her benching, and much to the team’s loss, no doubt, Hening quit after game three of the season.
As Judge Thomas Cullen outlined in his denial of Virginia Tech’s motion for summary judgment, the First Amendment’s protection of freedom includes “the right to refrain from speaking at all.” And in protecting that freedom, this includes “the right to be free from retaliation by a public official for the exercise of that right.” By pointing to further evidence showing Adair’s retaliatory motive, including that he pushed the female team to wear special “social justice”–themed jerseys and openly criticized a teammate’s family for being “All Lives Matter” supporters, Cullen greenlit Hening’s civil rights case to proceed to a full jury trial — something that will no longer happen after last week’s settlement.
The mind spins with questions after reading a case like Hening’s. Where were the feminists coming to her aid following what she endured at the hands of an intimidating brute like Adair? Where is the campus petition calling for his firing? How about similar calls to fire the heads of Virginia Tech’s sports department who apparently failed to even discipline him following the incident? The silence says a lot about how the Left truly thinks about “strong independent women,” which Hening most certainly is.
Like other inspirational conservatives including Nick Sandmann and Kyle Rittenhouse, Hening stood her ground against intolerable intimidation. No doubt, she has gone through hell on her campus, on social media, and elsewhere, and conservatives should continue to support her.