Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Attorneys, you may approach the bench

- Aaron McFarling aaron.mcfarling@roanoke.com

You can bet that Judge Judy never dealt with one quite like this. Ditto the honorable Joe Wapner.

They can be thankful for that. After all, how can a judge determine why an athlete was benched?

In the case of Hening v. Adair, we might never get to find out. Lawsuits get dropped or settled all the time before reaching trial, and this one involving a Virginia Tech soccer player and her coach might meet the same fate.

But not before making national news, which it already has. And it’s fascinatin­g to imagine Tech women’s soccer coach Chugger Adair sitting on the witness stand, highlighti­ng defensive miscues on a video screen.

Kiersten Hening argues it’s more vindictive than that. Her federal suit, filed in Roanoke on March 3, asserts that the former Hokies defender was a victim of a “campaign of abuse and retaliatio­n” after she refused to join her teammates in kneeling during the ACC’s pregame unity statement.

Adair’s university-provided attorneys filed a 10page response Monday, asserting that “any comments to [Hening] or reduction in playing time were related to her performanc­e on the field and not based on her beliefs, which are immaterial and are unknown to [Adair].”

So somebody’s got it wrong.

Hening left the team Sept. 20 — eight days after the season-opening game against Virginia. She’d been benched in subsequent matches against Clemson and North Carolina, with her lawsuit stating that it was “based on Hening’s political views and her refusal to kneel, not soccer or her play.”

Adair’s response “admits that he might have chastised [Hening] for ‘bitching and moaning,’ for being selfish and individual­istic, and for ‘doing her own thing,’ but these comments concerned her on-field performanc­e and attitude. [Adair] does not care about and was not aware of her standing during the unity statement until several days after the game.”

Particular­ly in our current climate, it’s tempting to line up behind either of the candidates solely along political lines, facts be damned. But I can almost guarantee you there’s one subset of the population full of men and women rolling their eyes at this lawsuit, regardless of their political persuasion: coaches.

Coaches have seen and heard it all. From Little League to the big leagues, few benchings have ever occurred that aren’t met with some resistance. Misunderst­andings are common in these cases, too. Just ask the parent of a 10-year-old why his son isn’t in the game.

Then go ask the coach. You’re likely to get two very different answers.

Nobody likes being benched. Especially a player such as Hening, who’d started at Tech for most of her career after making the team as a walkon. But it’s dangerous just to assume there’s something sinister behind it.

The lawsuit’s parties haven’t spoken publicly outside of their court filings. But Adair got some backing from reserve goalkeeper Alice Hamel, who told Mike Barber of The Richmond Times-Dispatch that she witnessed the confrontat­ions between the coach and player and saw no political motivation­s behind her benching.

“Chugger has a way of definitely getting to you,” Hamel said. “I think, with any Division I coach, sometimes it feels like you’re trying your best and he’s just not seeing what you’re seeing. I think it was common for people to feel like they were being singled out and it’s hard not to. You’re trying your best, and he’s seeing something different. It got to me more than one time. So I definitely understand where she’s coming from. But I can tell you with very little doubt that this was not for her political views.”

Maybe Hening has a star witness, too. Either way, Judge Judy can be glad she’s not presiding over this one.

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Adair

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