A First Amendment lawsuit by a college football team’s ex-offensive coordinator may hinge on the performance of his players.

Kurt Beathard claims he was dumped because he removed an Illinois State University (ISU) athletics department Black Lives Matter poster from his office door. He replaced it with a handwritten poster reading “All Lives Matter to our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.” 

Student athletes boycotted practice in part because of his action, and the next day head football coach Brock Spack told Beathard he did not “like the direction of the offense.”

Beathard was “reassigned to a completely bogus and made-up position” in which he worked from home through the end of his 2020 contract, which was not renewed, the suit claims. Director of Athletics Larry Lyons “authorized and supported” the adverse action. (ISU itself is not a defendant.)

“If you put the government’s message on your door, you keep your job,” Beathard’s lawyer Doug Churdar said in a press release accompanying the suit. “If you replace it with your own message, you’re fired.” File Kurt Beathard press release and lawsuit.pdf

Churdar is also representing University of Tennessee Chattanooga ex-assistant football coach Chris Malone in a First Amendment lawsuit related to his “Fat Albert” tweet about former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. That case is now in discovery, Churdar told Just the News.

The South Carolina personal injury lawyer got involved in sports speech cases by way of academic employment disputes.

“Lawyers are not lining up to take these cases because they aren’t particularly lucrative,” Churdar wrote in an email. He’s troubled that universities are “forcing an orthodoxy while simultaneously suppressing or punishing nonconforming viewpoints, particularly certain religious or conservative ones.”

The fact that coaches are often fired for the team’s failure “could force a jury to delve into the relative strength of the [football] offense to address the allegations of a pretextual termination,” George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley wrote in a blog post

ISU’s problem is that it made the BLM sign and was “clearly not happy with the posting of an alternative message,” Turley said. The university’s defense may lean on the athletes’ boycott, arguing “the conflict between Beathard and his players” justified termination.

‘My wife’s life mattered’

Beathard is the son of Hall of Famer Bobby Beathard, the longtime general manager of the team then known as the Washington Redskins.

The younger Beathard was a veteran coach of teams across the South and Midwest when he joined the ISU Redbirds, where his offense “set records” in 2014 and 2015, according to the suit. 

He stepped down in 2016 to deal with family issues, came back in 2018 to lead two more seasons of “successful” offense, and took another break until his wife died of cancer in June 2020.