’I was targeted.’ Peace athlete shares details of confrontations that led to walkout

Chip Alexander
·6 min read

A basketball player from William Peace University and two opponents are disputing incidents that led to a championship game forfeit over the weekend.

The Peace women’s team on Saturday forfeited the USA South East Division championship game to North Carolina Wesleyan. The team did so, it said in a statement, in solidarity with junior Lauryn Cross, who said she has been the victim of racial slurs in games while judged to be a wrong-doer and suspended twice by her own school.

Cross told the News & Observer the first incident involving racism occurred in the Jan. 30 game against Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia. Cross, who is African-American, said a Mary Baldwin player began using racial slurs and other derogatory taunts in the game.

“She was calling all my teammates b-----s and she was using the n-word very consistently,” Cross said. “When she did it to me, I went up to her as she was talking to the ref and she was saying how, ‘You need to watch out for No. 15, you know how they act,’ referring to the color of my skin. Then we went off to play the game and I had said, ‘Say it again,’ and she had called me a (n-word) once again.”

Lauryn Cross
Lauryn Cross

Mary Baldwin athletic director Tom Byrnes disputed the account Monday.

“We take the allegation of racism against one of our students seriously, and have worked with colleagues at William Peace University to investigate the January 30 incident,” Byrnes wrote in an email.

“After carefully reviewing video from the game, interviewing the MBU player involved, and speaking to courtside witnesses, our athletics officials determined the MBU player did not provoke the assault against her and never used a racial slur in airing her frustrations to officials or other players.”

Cross, Peace’s leading scorer this season, said the USA South Atlantic Conference suspended her for 1.5 games, and Peace added another 2.5 games, for a four-game suspension.

“I apologized for my actions,” Cross said. “But when the conference sent me a letter, they didn’t acknowledge the racism and how (the player) had called me a (n-word). ... All they did was talk about my reaction to her calling me a (n-word) for the second time.”

Cierra Baker, a sophomore guard from Fuquay-Varina and a Peace co-captain, told the N&O on Monday that she did not hear racial slurs being used in the game but said, “I know teammates who did hear it. They were heard.”

Cross said no one from Mary Baldwin apologized to her about the incident.

“Nothing happened to the other athlete,” Cross said. “The only thing that William Peace University did was acknowledge that I felt that racism was in play.

“That’s the reason I acted the way I acted. ... I’ve been called a lot of things but I’ve never been called a (n-word) multiple times. This was the first time.”

A second incident occurred March 3 in the game against Meredith, resulting in her second suspension. Cross said a Meredith player went up to one of her teammates and asked if she was going to punch her like Cross did in the Mary Baldwin game.

After the game, Cross said she spotted a Meredith player near the locker room giving her the middle finger and saying some things. As Cross later walked out to leave, she said she saw the Meredith player going to the team bus while continuing to use the middle finger and “saying whatever she wanted to say.”

Cross, 20, said her teammates tried to calm her, and that no punches were thrown.

“I stood there and said, ‘OK, if you’ve got something to say, say it to my face,’” Cross said.

Cross said she was later told by Peace athletic director Tom Curle that he concluded she had gone to the Meredith locker room to confront the Meredith player, then had left the Peace locker room to again confront the player as she boarded the team bus.

“None of that was true,” Cross said. “None of my teammates were interviewed by my athletic director. Nothing.”

No official complaint was made and Meredith College was unaware of the allegations prior to media reports regarding Cross’s claims, Meredith news director Melyssa Allen said Monday.

Allen said Meredith College’s athletics department interviewed all members of its basketball team individually and that the team disputes the version of events that has been presented by Cross.

Meredith head coach LaQuanda Quick, in a statement, said her team and Meredith’s athletics program “take accusations of racism, on the court or off, very seriously.”

“This summer, our program made a public statement against racial injustice, and we have vowed that our program would be a shining example of what diversity and acceptance should look like on campus and throughout our country,” Quick wrote. “As our statement from the summer makes clear, our program has a responsibility to stand up against hatred, intolerance, and racism. As a team we stand in solidarity with the Black community. Our diversity is what makes us great. Meredith’s basketball team and Avenging Angels athletics continues to stand against hatred and injustice as we support our student athletes and their wider communities.”

Cross said she received an email informing her she was again being suspended again by Peace, a disciplinary action which would keep her out of the tournament championship game on Saturday.

“I was targeted,” Cross said. “They suspended me for something I did not do. I haven’t done anything.”

Cross said Curle did not believe her claims and that she is perceived as a “violent person.”

“I was targeted and my athletic director allowed that to happen,” Cross said.

Cross used her Twitter account Saturday to protest the suspension. The women’s team later Saturday morning used its Twitter account to post a statement saying it would forfeit the championship game.

“We just felt the decision was much bigger than basketball,” Peace’s Baker said. “By playing in the game, we wouldn’t have been able to gain the attention or spread the awareness to this issue where it needs to be.

“Winning that game, going and playing and winning that game, would not feel right without Lauryn because the entire situation was unethical, her suspension was unethical, and the process the athletic department went through to suspend her wasn’t ethical, either.”

Peace head coach Marquetta Dickens soon tweeted she supported that decision.

“She’s been my No. 1 supporter in all this and backed me up 100 percent,” Cross said of Dickens.

Peace president Brian Ralph, in a statement released Saturday night, said he supported the team’s decision to forfeit. He said Peace had asked that a conference task force be created to address issues of racism.

Ralph said Peace is “taking steps to ensure that our student athletes are no longer forced to navigate such inappropriate situations and that these types of incidents can be avoided in the future.”

Cross said that she will always be grateful to her teammates for the solidarity they showed her and the strong, sacrificial stand they took Saturday in her support.

“That means a lot to me,” Cross said. “I definitely wanted our seniors to play, because it was their last chance. My teammates have been by my side. I couldn’t thank them enough because they know it’s wrong.”