Brigham Young University is still investigating the racist slurs yelled at a Duke volleyball player last week — in part because campus police say it doesn’t appear the man who was eventually banned was the person shouting the N-word.
BYU Police Lt. George Besendorfer said Tuesday that based on an initial review of surveillance footage of the crowd, the individual who was banned wasn’t shouting anything while the Duke player was serving.
“When we watched the video, we did not observe that behavior from him,” he said.
Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, the lone Black starter on the team, has said she “very distinctly” heard a “very strong and negative racial slur” come from the student section during Friday’s match while she was serving.
“Various BYU Athletics employees have been reviewing video from BYUtv and other cameras in the facility that the volleyball team has access to for film review. This has been ongoing since right after the match on Friday night,” BYU Associate Athletic Director Jon McBride said in a statement. “The person who was banned was the person identified by Duke as using racial slurs. However, we have been unable to find any evidence of that person using slurs in the match.”
Based on those reports, that could mean a second person, who did shout the slur, has not yet been identified and has not had any action taken against them by the Provo university. BYU has not said it doubts Richardson’s account, and it is still investigating.
The school is asking for fans in attendance to share video and accounts from the match to help with the investigation. At the volleyball match the next day, BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe encouraged them to, as well, asking them to “have the courage to take a stand and take care of each other and more importantly the guests, our guests who we invited to come and play here.”
The police report says that on Sunday — one day later — someone left a threatening voicemail for a BYU athletic coach. The report does not identify the coach or provide details about the anonymous message.
The report, with names redacted, was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request. It says the fan who was banned approached a Duke volleyball player after the game Friday in an interaction she reported made her uncomfortable. The police report says the fan “got in the face” of the player, who is not identified, but doesn’t note if anything was said.
The player’s family has said she was approached by a white man who told her to watch her back.
After that, though, Duke coaches and players identified that man as the same one who yelled the N-word from the BYU student section at Richardson, according to the police report.
Police talked to the man, who’s identified in the report as a Utah Valley University student, and he denied shouting any slurs; he said the only thing he yelled was that the players “shouldn’t hit the ball into the net.” He acknowledged that he did approach the Duke player after the match, thinking she was a friend of his who played for BYU (their uniforms are the same color, the officer noted).
An officer later reviewed footage, according to the report, and wrote: “There was nothing seen on the game film that led me to believe” that the man “was the person who was making comments to the player who complained about being called the N-word.”
During the match’s second set, the officer observed, the UVU student was not present when Richardson was serving, which is when Richardson’s family and Duke officials said the slurs were yelled. And later, when she was serving again, he was playing on his phone, the officer wrote.
But the officers said the athletic department wanted to ban the man, so the school moved forward with that process. The officer told the man not to come to any future games “indefinitely,” according to the report.
In a statement after the match, BYU said only that an individual “identified by Duke” was banned.
When asked if police had reviewed footage further to see who was yelling the slur — because they were able to see that the banned UVU student likely was not — Besendorfer said the police department is no longer looking at the video.
He said the task of reviewing the footage has been taken over by BYU athletics and the school’s communication administration.
“There’s a bunch of video,” Besendorfer said. “Athletics and university communication, they are looking at all of that.”
It’s unclear whether any staff there have forensic experience in investigating video footage; a university spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night on that question.
It also raises questions about what in the investigation will be public. BYU’s police department is subject to public records requests. Other departments, including athletics, at the private school operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not.
So far, Besendorfer also said, no one from the student section or elsewhere at the volleyball match last week has come forward to BYU police to report the individual responsible for the slur. He also said no one has come forward to say they heard the slur being shouted during the match. He implored students who heard the comments to come forward; they can call police dispatch, he said, at 801-422-2222.
“We wish someone would,” he said.
According to the school’s Honor Code, students are supposed to come forward in situations like this “to maintain the highest standards in their personal conduct regarding honor, integrity, morality, and consideration of others.”
Because of safety concerns raised by the Duke players, their next match against Rider was moved off the Provo campus the day after Richardson reported hearing the slur. BYU also played again on Saturday, where Holmoe urged any fans who were witnesses to come forward.
”As children of God, we are responsible,” he added. “It is our mission to love one another and treat everyone with respect. And that didn’t happen. We fell very short.”
He told CNN on Monday that if a student was involved, they would risk expulsion.
A mismatched timeline of events
The police report also provides for the first time a more detailed timeline of what happened and the response by BYU during the match — and some of it does not match what the players recounted happened to them.
Richardson said she alerted the Duke coaching staff immediately after hearing the racial slurs in the second set. At that point, Duke coaches told both the officials and the BYU coaches, she said.
According to the police report, BYU told an officer about the issue during the third set of the match and elected to put a police officer near the Duke bench before the fourth set. No one identified the person making the slurs at that time, the officer said.
Richardson’s family has said a fan in the student section repeatedly yelled the N-word at Richardson every time she served the ball. Richardson later noted in a statement the racial slurs escalated throughout the match and some comments “grew into threats which caused [her] to feel unsafe.”
The officer said in his report he didn’t personally hear any slurs while he was visibly standing there, listening. He said all he heard was BYU fans calling specific Duke players by their first names.
Holmoe also said BYU sent four ushers and an officer into the stands looking for the person who said the racial slur, as he spoke during the interview with CNN on Monday.
Richardson has since said she wanted the match to continue at that point, and felt her own coaches had taken the necessary steps to stem the action.
“That was enough action in that moment and that made me feel seen and heard,” Richardson said in an ESPN interview on Tuesday.
By the fourth set, though, Richardson said the racial slurs escalated. She also said that some of her teammates were subject to taunting from the crowd.
“In the fourth set, we went back to that side, and it was almost as if the atmosphere of the student section had changed,” she told ESPN. “Even my Black teammates who were on the bench, who don’t play, they were being called out, pointed at and it was really confusing as to why. That’s when the racial slurs and heckling just grew more and more intense.”
The police officer said he talked to coaching staff from both teams that night and learned that Duke staff members were mad that he didn’t take action during the fourth set while the taunting continued. They said the Black players were being called out by name, only — while none of the white players were.
“I told the athletic staff that I never heard one racial comment being made,” he wrote in his report. The officer reported he also talked to others there who said they had not heard a slur.
BYU banned the UVU student from campus after the match.
What came after that
After the game, Richardson’s family has said she was also approached by a white man who told her to watch her back. It’s unclear if that’s when the UVU student who was banned was approaching who he thought was his friend, according to the police report.
The next morning, Richardson met with Holmoe, BYU’s athletic director, in the team hotel. BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead also said she spoke with Richardson at a separate time.
Richardson specified what she wanted Holmoe and BYU to do, including “staff and players undergoing education and training to better handle and prevent the racist, ignorant and asinine behaviors that were exhibited by their fans during the match.”
“I very much so felt heard and felt seen during that conversation,” she said of her meeting. “I could feel and I could see how sorry he was and honestly shocked that it happened.”
She said several BYU volleyball players have also reached out to her “just expressing how sorry they were.”
“That is a great group of girls. They were so sweet,” Richardson said. “Acted so sportsmanlike before the game, after the game, during the game.”
She added: “I just see it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that racist incidents such as these, they still are happening. It’s 2022 and it should be unacceptable, but it’s still happening.”