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Ex-coach sues Chattanooga, cites 1st amendment

A former Tennessee-Chattanooga assistant coach is suing the school for First Amendment retaliation after he was fired for a tweet mocking Georgia politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

Tennessee-Chattanooga fired Chris Malone in January, citing the tweet he posted and then deleted about the Georgia senate runoff elections. Abrams, a former Georgia state assembly member who became the first Black woman to earn a major party’s nomination for governor, rallied support for Democratic senate candidates the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who both won their runoff races.

“Congratulations to the state GA and Fat Albert @staceyabrams because you have truly shown America the true works of cheating in an election, again!!!” Malone tweeted, before deleting the tweet and then his account. “Enjoy the buffet Big Girl! You earned it!!! Hope the money was good, still not governor!”

Athletic director Mark Wharton called the tweet “appalling,” and head coach Rusty Wright said the tweet is “unacceptable and not any part of what I stand for or what Chattanooga Football stands for.”

Malone’s complaint contends that Tennessee-Chattanooga is a public school governed by the First Amendment, which protects speech such as criticizing politicians.

“UTC is going to get acquainted with the First Amendment,” attorney Doug Churdar, who is representing Malone, said in a news release. “As a public school, it cannot control what its employees say at social gatherings or on social media. It certainly cannot fire them for criticizing and mocking politicians.”

Churdar added that Malone “won’t walk away” from his coaching career for a tweet that was deleted 30 minutes after it published. Malone coached offensive line at UT-Chattanooga and had made other stops at Old Dominion, James Madison and Virginia State, a historically Black university.

“Calling politicians liars and cheaters is a proud American tradition,” Churdar said. “Nobody’s got a problem with it until it’s ‘their’ politician.”

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