Costume: Activism fired players from Lenoir-Rhyne basketball team
WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Eight Lenoir-Rhyne basketball players and a manager have been kicked from the team for hosting symposia to discuss racism and social justice, according to a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month, also says the black players were told by their coach that they were not wanted at school. The eight players and the manager are the plaintiffs in the case.
The trial in Mecklenburg County Superior Court names Lenoir-Rhyne University, women’s basketball coach Grahm Smith and university president Frederick Whitt as accused. The players are claiming $ 26 million in damages, claiming in the lawsuit their professional basketball career chances have been jeopardized by the layoffs.
The lawsuit also indicates that the school has reneged on part of the student manual that allows students freedom of expression in public and private places. Lenoir-Rhyne withdrew scholarships from the player because they spoke out, according to the lawsuit.
A spokesperson for Hickory Liberal Arts College said Thursday the school had not seen the trial and could not comment on it.
But spokesman Cory Butzin said in an email that the school had conducted an independent investigation into the allegations made by the players against the school. A school statement said the investigation concluded there was no evidence that female basketball coaching staff “promotes or facilitates a culture of racial insensitivity.”
The investigation also found that Smith’s communications and decisions regarding non-returning female basketball players were motivated by legitimate reasons unrelated to issues of race or social justice.
Player Laney Fox, who is white, and Nakia Hooks, one of the black players excluded from the squad, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Lawyer Harold Kennedy, who represents the plaintiffs, declined to comment further on the case.
Smith’s decision to fire Fox from the women’s basketball team was based on a loss of confidence and what he saw as a lack of commitment, according to the independent investigation, according to the college statement. towards the program.
Lenoir-Rhyne is a private university in Hickory with an enrollment of 2,742 as of the 2019-2020 school year. Located about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northwest of Charlotte, it participates in the South Athletic Conference, a grouping of 13 NCAA Division II schools.
In September 2020, Fox hosted a symposium for the team to discuss racism and social justice, which was also attended by the school’s athletic director, provost, and director of diversity and inclusion, according to the lawsuit. He said the symposium was a response to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Smith, who also attended the meeting, told a white player after the meeting that the black players on the team were “too aggressive and hostile” because of their attendance at the symposium, according to the document.
Fox and team leader Fatou Sell organized a second campus-wide symposium at Lenoir-Rhyne University on addressing issues of racism and social justice. It was after the second Symposium and after the end of the 2020-2021 season that Smith kicked Fox, Sell and seven other players from the squad.
Kennedy said seven of the players were fired at meetings March 15-17, 2021, and he said Fox was fired on March 25 of the same year; Fox had left school in November 2020 and returned home to Florida due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Smith set out to fight back against black players and white players who supported black players and spoke out against racism and for social justice,” the document reads. The retaliation consisted of “making black players feel that they were not wanted at Lenoir-Rhyne University”.
The lawsuit also says most of the players who started the team were told they “didn’t fit the culture” of the women’s basketball program.
Additionally, Fox says in the lawsuit that when she wrote an open letter to the school in April 2021 pointing out that four of the five black players on the Lenoir-Rhyne team had been kicked from the team, the president of the l Whitt University responded with a letter that said “a former student athlete posted a number of false allegations on social media” about the layoffs.
“His firing from the basketball team was a legitimate coaching decision, and any suggestions to the contrary are just plain wrong,” Whitt wrote.
Fox is claiming $ 5 million in actual damages and over $ 25,000 in punitive damages against Whitt and the university.