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Former College Soccer Player Gets $100K Payout After Coach Benched Her For Refusing To Kneel

Roanoke, VA – The former member of the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team who claimed her coach cut her playing time and berated her after she refused to kneel with her teammates in support of Black Lives Matter will receive a settlement of at least $100,000 as part of an agreement to dismiss her federal lawsuit.

Cameron Norris, an attorney representing former Virginia Tech soccer player Kiersten Hening, said the settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing by his client or by her former coach, Charles “Chugger” Adair, The Roanoke Times reported.

Details of the settlement terms were not contained in court documents.

Norris said the agreement must be approved by state officials and the university before it is finalized, The Roanoke Times reported.

The settlement agreement came about one month after Western District of Virginia Federal Judge Thomas Cullen ruled that Adair may have violated the former Hokie’s midfielder/defender’s First Amendment rights by allegedly penalizing her for refusing to participate during the team’s social justice protest, Newsweek reported.

Cullen’s decision paved the way for the lawsuit to proceed to trial.

Adair released a statement on Jan. 4 saying he is pleased to know the case against him has been closed and that he is “free to move forward clear of any wrongdoing.”

“It has been difficult not being able to tell my side of the story, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from the Virginia Tech administration, current and former players, and Hokie Nation,” the coach wrote. “The people I care about and whose opinions matter to me know the truth. They know my coaching decisions are based purely on getting our team in a position to win.”

Adair insisted that his decision to replace Hening with another player had nothing to do with Hening’s refusal to kneel during the team’s unity statement.

“It is unfortunate, but this ordeal was about a disappointment and a disagreement about playing time,” he wrote. “Today, we have the clarity that this case lacked any standing, and without evidence, the truth has prevailed.”

Attorney Adam Mortara was quick to respond to Adair’s statement in a tweet of his own.

“If by clarity you mean you are paying my client six figures in a settlement then you’re right that’s pretty clear,” Mortara wrote. “Honestly, Coach, read the Court’s opinion. You are paying. Defendants don’t pay in cases that have no standing.”

“Kiersten Hening was benched for her free speech and you paying a giant settlement proves it,” he added. “We would like to thank you and your bosses at Tech for paying the equivalent of several years of tuition.”

Hening, who played for the Hokies from 2018 to 2020, filed her lawsuit against Adair in 2021, FOX News reported.

The former soccer player said in the suit that her views on social justice issues amid the peak of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement differed from those of many of her teammates, and further alleged Adair was particularly disenchanted by her political views.

The alleged problems began on Sept. 12, 2020, in the moments prior to the Hokies’ season opener against the University of Virginia (UVA,) according to Cullen’s ruling this past December.

While a “Unity Statement” was read over the loudspeaker during the pregame, Hening refused to kneel alongside her coaches and teammates as they demonstrated their support of Black Lives Matter and various social-justice initiatives, the lawsuit read.

Hening noted in the filing that she “supports social justice and believes that black lives matter,” but that she “does not support BLM the organization,” FOX News reported.

She said she especially does not agree with the “tactics and core tenets” of the BLM’s “mission statement, including defunding the police,” according to the lawsuit.

Hening alleged that Adair was infuriated over her refusal to participate in the social justice protest, and that he “verbally attacked her” during halftime as a result, FOX News reported.

According to the lawsuit, the coach accused her of “b-tching and moaning” as he jabbed his finger in her face during the halftime confrontation.

“Coach Adair’s tirade was so extreme, so personally directed at Hening, and so disconnected from the game itself, that her teammates approached her afterward to comfort her and express their shock,” the lawsuit alleged, according to Newsweek.

Hening said Adair ultimately benched her over the ordeal and continued to berate her to the point that she felt she had no choice but to resign from the team, the suit alleged.

“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,” Cullen wrote in his ruling, according to FOX News. “As a result, Hening resigned from the team after the third game of the season.”

The judge further noted that Hening averaged 76 minutes of playing time as a freshman, and nearly 88 minutes as a sophomore.

But in the second game of the 2020 season – the next game after she refused to kneel – she was only on the field for 29 minutes, Cullen wrote.

Hening played just five minutes during the game after that, according to the judge.

Adair previously urged the court to dismiss the lawsuit and argued that two of Hening’s teammates who also remained standing during the social justice demonstration didn’t have their playing time reduced at all, FOX News reported.

Cullen denied the motion to dismiss.

“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,” the judge’s ruling read, according to FOX News.

“While the U.S. 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 concluded.

A three-day trial in the case was scheduled to begin in late January, but was cancelled on Jan. 3 in light of the settlement agreement.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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