Virginia Tech student Kiersten Hening was thrust into the national spotlight in March 2021 when she sued her college soccer coach, Charles “Chugger” Adair, for retaliating against her after she refused to kneel with teammates in support of Black Lives Matter. Nearly two years later, she’s emerged victorious. Hening and Adair agreed to a settlement, and the 22-year-old was awarded $100,000 for the violation of her First Amendment rights. Hening told The Post’s RIKKI SCHLOTT her story — and reveals what’s next for her.
In the fall of 2020, I was living my dream of being a Division One soccer player — but everything came tumbling down when I stood up for what I believed in and refused to kneel with my teammates in support of Black Lives Matter.
I’ve been playing soccer since I was 3 years old. It’s all I’ve ever known, and I always wanted to play for Virginia Tech. My parents went there and I grew up going to the school’s football games, so it really was a dream come true when I started playing on the soccer team in 2018.
My first two seasons were great. Playing soccer provided me with structure and discipline, and I loved my teammates. We had a really special bond and practically became sisters.
But in the 2020 season, everything changed.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and protests around the country, some of my fellow players started advocating for wearing Black Lives Matter shirts and armbands during warmups. There was even talk of replacing the team name on our uniforms with the names of victims of police violence.
All of a sudden, the locker room became this really uncomfortable, toxic environment where some players wanted to force their activism on the entire team.
Of course I believe in black lives mattering, and I think our country has a lot of work to do — but I don’t support the organization Black Lives Matter. I did my research, and I take exception to aspects of their mission, like dismantling the nuclear family and defunding the police.
Everything came to a fever pitch in a September game against the University of Virginia. That’s when the team representatives decided we would kneel while a unity statement about Black Lives Matter was read before the game. But the rest of us weren’t shown the statement ahead of time.
I went into the game knowing that I wasn’t going to kneel in support of something I didn’t even get to read. Standing up — literally — for what I believe in is just who I am. I was raised by a family that taught me to stick by my principles, no matter the cost.
When the moment came, I actually wasn’t nervous about standing. I was set in my ways from the get-go. It felt like just a few seconds, and when it was over, I thought the whole situation was behind me.
But things immediately started to unravel. During our halftime huddle, our head coach laid into me. He berated me, stuck a finger in my face, and screamed in a way I’d never seen before. He even accused me of “bitching and moaning” by “doing my own thing.”
And that was just the start of the targeting. In a post-game meeting, he began blaming me for goals the other team scored, even when they were clearly not my fault. I was taken out of the starting lineup. I went from playing the most minutes of anyone on the team to spending most of my time on the bench.
[Adair, who is still head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies women soccer team, did not return The Post’s request for comment.]
Socially, I was cancelled and ostracized. While a few teammates stuck by my side, many turned against me. People were so quick to judge and call me names, even after they’d been my friend and teammate for three years.
When my fellow players and my coach turned against me, I decided enough was enough and left the team. I missed out on three seasons of playing the sport that I love — all for simply standing on a field.
As Division One athletes, we are given a wonderful platform that allows us to speak out for what we believe in. But pressuring players to conform to a narrative they’re uncomfortable with is wrong.
Because I was so clearly retaliated against, bringing my coach to court was just a no-brainer. I knew my First Amendment rights were violated, and I had the facts and evidence on my side. Now, having a federal judge side with me and getting a settlement is just so reassuring.
I’m saving my settlement, putting soccer behind me, and turning my attention to nursing school. I graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 with a degree in public health. My ultimate goal is to work with kids in a pediatric emergency department. I’m moving on with my life.
But this is so much bigger than just me and my story. I’ve had athletes from other schools and people around the world reach out and tell me the same thing happened to them — that they’d been put in a position of having to sacrifice a position, a job or even friendships over politics.
I know this is an issue for so many people, and especially young people. But my advice is to never sacrifice your morals and principles out of fear of being judged. And if you do lose friends for staying true to yourself, those people weren’t your real friends.
Going against the grain can be difficult emotionally, physically and mentally, but I would do it all over again.
I hope my story inspires other people to stay true to what they believe in. When you stand up for your principles and don’t conform to the mob mentality, you learn just how many people actually agree with you. Courage is contagious.