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Former Lenoir-Rhyne women's basketball player claims she was cut from the team for speaking up against alleged racist teammates

Laney Fox said she was cut via Zoom on March 25.

HICKORY, N.C. — Former women’s basketball team members at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory are calling for the termination of the school’s president and women’s basketball coaching staff after they claim the school targeted them for their support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Several students at Lenoir-Rhyne University reached out to WCNC Charlotte’s Billie Jean Shaw about the issue after sophomore Laney Fox posted the allegations on social media.

“I want President Whitt and Coach Smith all to be fired or resign," Laney Fox said. 

Fox said she and six other players were cut from the team in March -- six months after reporting alleged racist remarks made by other teammates to the coaching staff.

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Three other players quit, citing the hostile environment on the team. WCNC Charlotte’s Billie Jean Shaw spoke to Fox and four other former players who wished to remain anonymous.

In details they shared in some of the remarks made to their faces by their teammates following the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

“On Aug. 17 a player said to me, 'oh you went to doing our laundry to being an RA',” one anonymous former player said. 

“Some of the girls said slaves were treated like family and what was the issue if you were treated like a good slave,” another player said. 

“It is completely degrading, humiliating and for me to find that out and continue to play with this teammate it disgusted me,” Fox said. 

By September, Fox said several teammates brought the concerns to head coach Grahm Smith. She said Smith called the team together to talk out their issues and commended her on speaking up.

Fox said the coaches told her, “We think this is great you’re helping your Black teammates.”  

Credit: WCNC

For months, Fox said she and other teammates participated in campus-related Black Lives Matter initiatives and spearheaded conversations to improve race relations with other team members. 

Fox said the coaches never warned or reprimand her for her involvement with any race-related initiatives.

“They seemed to be on the right side,” Fox said 

That’s why Fox said she was blindsided at an end of the year meeting on March 25 when Smith informed her she was being cut from the team -- not because of her talent but due to lack of acceptance by others and a cultural standpoint. 

WCNC Charlotte obtained a 20-minute recording of a Zoom meeting between Fox and the coaching staff.

A spokesman confirmed the university is aware of the recording and said head Coach Grahm Smith, Coach Audrey Timmerman and Senior Athletic Director Aaron Brock and others could be heard on it.

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At the beginning of the clip, a  man who Fox identifies as Smith can be heard saying, “lack of acceptance from others …”

Fox can then be heard asking, “what does acceptance from others mean because we called out racism at the beginning of the year?”

A different voice from the first man responds. Fox identifies that voice as Athletic Director Aaron Brock. “It has nothing to do with racism Laney, it’s about being divisive.”

Fox says Smith responded by saying, “people don’t want to be educated on things they don’t want to be educated on. Talent standpoint, once again it has nothing to do with talent. What it has to do with is, it has to do with a culture standpoint and a buy-in standpoint. I've had numerous players come and say you're almost a distraction. What it comes down to Laney ,is that, it's not the right fit for our program."

Fox posted the recordings on her social media accounts over the weekend. Close to 6,000 people have viewed the videos prompting a response from Lenoir-Rhyne University President Dr. Fred Whitt.

In the letter, Whitt calls Fox’s claims about being dismissed from the team because she spoke out against racism, “false," and says he “flatly disagrees with this student’s version of events.”

He then proceeded to say, “although we have no indication to suggest that there is any racism or any undertone of racism within the women’s basketball program, Lenoir-Rhyne takes any such claim extremely seriously. I am initiating an internal review of the matter.”

Credit: WCNC

As of Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for university told WCNC's Billie Jean Shaw "the university has now brought in an independent, external investigator to oversee and review the matter. Time will be required to complete a fair and impartial review and we ask for the community’s patience. We will share updates with the campus community as appropriate."

“It’s insulting to my own intelligence," Fox said. “How can you say everything is false if you haven’t done an investigation?"

WCNC Charlotte requested an interview with the president and coaching staff twice, but the university declined. However, a spokesman for the university answered questions via email reiterating “neither racism nor social justice issues were factors in the decision” to cut Fox from the team.  

Fox claims the entire leadership staff is covering up a long-term ongoing issue of racism at Lenoir- Rhyne University.

“Yes this is an issue with the women’s basketball team, it's an issue across this university," Fox said. 

On Thursday, Fox will lead a protest to demand transparency accountability and action on the investigation into the matter. Fox says an invite was extended to university leadership.

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