Coach fired for replacing BLM poster with ‘all lives matter’ sign, Illinois suit says

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A former football coach for Illinois State University was fired from his offensive coordinator job after he took down a Black Lives Matter poster from his office door and replaced it with one that “expressed his own religious and political views,” according to a lawsuit.

Kurt Beathard, a former offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the Illinois State Redbirds, filed the lawsuit on Nov. 30, saying he was fired from his post in September 2020 because he “did not toe the party line regarding the Black Lives Matter organization.”

A BLM poster had been put on his office door in mid-August 2020, a time when “the campus community was dealing with tension resulting from the death of George Floyd,” the lawsuit says. Beathard took down the poster and replaced it with a handwritten sign that read, “All Lives Matter to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Brock Spack, ISU’s head football coach, asked Beathard to take down the “All Lives Matter” poster and he did, the lawsuit states. Less than a week later, on Sept. 2, Spack told Beathard “that he didn’t ‘like the direction of the offense’ and that he was being terminated from his position as offensive coordinator,” the lawsuit says.

Beathard contends that his First Amendment rights were violated and that he is a victim of viewpoint discrimination, the lawsuit says.

He is suing Slack and Larry Lyons, the school’s former Director of Athletics, who retired from Illinois State at the end of 2020.

Slack and school officials declined to comment when reached by McClatchy News. Efforts to reach Lyons were unsuccessful.

“It’s come to this. If you put the government’s message on your door, you keep your job. If you replace it with your own message, you’re fired,” Doug Churdar, Beathard’s lawyer, said in a statement. “There’s only one reason Beathard isn’t offensive coordinator at ISU: he did not toe the party line on BLM.”

Beathard said he does not support the Black Lives Matter organization.

“Throughout his career, Beathard has successfully worked with young men of all races,” the lawsuit said. “While he believes black lives matter, he is opposed to the Black Lives Matter organization because it was founded by self-described ‘trained Marxists,’ it divides human beings by skin color, and it supports violence and property destruction.”

Beathard had coached at ISU for several years before taking a break in the spring 2020, due to his wife’s illness. She died in June 2020 from cancer, and Beathard returned to work later that summer.

Upon returning, Beathard says Spack told him that “Black Lives Matter is freaking nuts,” regarding the national and campus climate at the time.

Lyons, the athletic director, spoke to student-athletes on Aug. 27 via a Zoom call in an “attempt to foster unity” and used the phrase, “All Redbirds Lives Matter,” which set off a controversy among some student-athletes, the lawsuit said.

It was two days later when Spack came to Beathard asking him to remove his self-made “All Lives Matter” poster from his office door.

After Lyon’s speech, student-athletes began crafting a list of demands from the athletic program, one being that the department had to publicly support the Black Lives Matter movement.

By Aug. 31, the department had publicly announced its support for the movement in an “Action Plan for Social Change,” the lawsuit said.

Beathard said that in the meantime, a coach “wanting to replace (him)” took a photo of his poster, and shared it with players. The football players were upset by the poster, the lawsuit said, and began to boycott practice.

After being fired as the offensive coordinator the next day, Beathard was “reassigned to a completely bogus and made-up position,” the lawsuit states, and his contract was not renewed.

The Redbirds, with Beathard as offensive coordinator, averaged 31.8 points per game in 2018 and 19.8 per game in 2019, statistics show.

Beathard was ultimately replaced by Ghaali Muhammad-Lankford and C.J. Irvin, which was announced in a Sept. 23 release. This season the Redbirds averaged 18.4 points per game.

The lawsuit argues that the public school not only violated Beathard’s First Amendment rights, but his rights under the ISU anti-harrassment and non-discrimination policy.

Beathard is seeking to be reinstated with back pay, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief, nominal damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages and reimbursement of attorney fees.

The Washington Post reported that Beathard has familial ties to football.

“He is the son of legendary NFL general manager Bobby Beathard,” the Post reported, and the uncle of Jacksonville Jaguar backup quarterback C.J. Beathard.

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