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Kiersten HeningHokie Sports

(LifeSiteNews) — A former Virginia Tech soccer player who was benched and later quit after refusing to participate in a social justice demonstration can proceed with her lawsuit against the team’s coach, a federal judge announced December 2.

Kiersten Hening, a midfielder-defender for the Hokies from 2018 until 2020, sued Charles Adair in 2021 after he allegedly berated her during halftime and later reduced her playing time for not kneeling during a pregame “unity statement” when the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was at its peak.

Judge Thomas Cullen, a Trump-appointee, ruled against Adair’s motion to dismiss the case earlier this month, writing that “Adair’s conduct towards Hening — publicly chastising her, removing her from the starting lineup, and reducing her playing time — would tend to chill a person of ordinary firmness’s exercise of her First Amendment rights.”

Hening was one the team’s best athletes, playing an average of 76 minutes per game and starting 19 of them as a freshman in 2018. As a sophomore, she averaged almost the full 90 minutes, starting 18 games. The game following her refusal to kneel, Hening was on the pitch for only 29 minutes. The game after that, just five. She then quit the team amid mounting pressure.

“It was no secret among the players and coaching staff that Hening was an outspoken conservative and supporter of former President Donald Trump,” Cullen wrote in his ruling. Hening’s original lawsuit said she disagrees with “core tenets” of what Black Lives Matter advocates for, including defunding the police and eliminating the nuclear family.

According to court documents, several liberal players — most of whom were freshman — complained to a sympathetic Adair about teammates who refused to embrace BLM. Adair addressed the team about the matter on at least two occasions before the season began, encouraging them to find consensus on the issue by possibly wearing social justice-themed warm-up jerseys. Adair later allegedly made snide remarks about a player’s family who embraced the “All Lives Matter” slogan.

“The evidence of Adair’s apparent views on this issue … and Hening’s well-known conservative leanings and lack of support for BLM … support an inference that Adair had a retaliatory motive when he criticized, and later benched, Hening for refusing to kneel during the Unity Statement,” Cullen wrote.

Adair, who is still the Virginia Tech coach, denies the charges. He says that two other players who refused to kneel were not singled out. Hening’s limited appearances on the pitch were due to her poor performance, he argued. Adair also claims he didn’t notice she wasn’t kneeling, though still photographs of the match indicate he was looking in her direction.

The lawsuit will proceed to court where a jury will determine if Hening will be awarded any damages.