RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina women’s college basketball team forfeited a chance at its conference championship to stand in solidarity with a teammate who was disciplined for her part in an incident during which she said she was the target of racial slurs.
William Peace University junior Lauryn Cross was disciplined for the incident following Peace’s win last Wednesday against Meredith College in the division semifinals of the USA South Conference tournament, The North State Journal reported. Because of Cross’ suspension, the team decided to forfeit the East Division championship game the next night, giving North Carolina Wesleyan the title.
“We decided not to play because we felt like the situation is much bigger than basketball, and problems like this need to get solved at their root,” William Peace team captain Cierra Baker said. “If we would have played, we don’t think that the school administration or the athletic department would have taken us seriously because suspending Lauryn was wrong.”
William Peace coach Marquetta Dickens, in a social media post, supported her players.
“This is not ideal,” she wrote. “But I stand in solidarity with their decision and (am) proud they feel empowered to use their voice.”
Cross alleged that an unidentified Meredith player had spent most of the game baiting her with racial slurs and other expletives. She said the player flashed an obscene gesture at her through the window of a door separating the teams’ locker rooms. The players crossed paths in the parking lot outside the game site.
“As I was going to my car, she was going to her bus sticking up her middle finger and saying a lot of things … ” Cross said. “My teammates were holding me back, and I was sitting there crying. I was so frustrated because nobody was doing anything about it whatsoever.”
On Friday, Cross was suspended by William Peace athletic director Tom Curle. Cross contends the disciplinary action was taken based on a report alleging that she entered the Meredith locker room and followed the player to the bus.
“I didn’t step in anybody’s locker room. I didn’t follow anybody to the bus. My teammates were there, they saw everything,” Cross said.
William Peace President Dr. Brian C. Ralph acknowledged that a student – he didn’t name Cross – informed the school that she experienced racism and taunting during competition, but he said investigations by both schools determined the student responded to the incidents in a manner that resulted in discipline.
The statement went on to say that William Peace has asked the conference to set up a task force “to more strongly address issues of racism in competition.”
Officials and players at Meredith disputed Cross’s claims in a statement.
“Meredith College’s athletics department has since interviewed all members of its basketball team individually and the team disputes the version of events that has been presented,” the statement said.
Cross, a 5-foot-7 guard from Urbana, Illinois, was suspended for four games earlier this season after she threw a punch at a player from Mary Baldwin College whom she said had been using racial slurs against her multiple times, including in front of referees. Both players were assessed technical fouls but were not ejected from the game.