Duke volleyball player who was called racial slurs in Utah says BYU failed in initial response

Rachel Richardson has called on university officials to take actionable steps to address racism on campus.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pictures of the Brigham Young University (BYU).

Rachel Richardson, the Duke University volleyball player who was repeatedly called a racial slur at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, said BYU failed in its initial response to the situation.

In Richardson’s first public comments since the match between BYU and Duke on Friday in Provo, the sophomore said in a statement that BYU did not create a safe environment for the players. Also, she said BYU’s immediate response following the game was inadequate.

“Both officials and BYU’s coaching staff were made aware of the incident during the game, but failed to take the necessary steps to stop the unacceptable behavior and create a safe environment,” Richardson wrote in a statement she posted Sunday on Twitter. “As a result, my teammates and I had to struggle just to get through the rest of the game. ... They also failed to adequately address the situation immediately following the game when it was brought to their attention again.”

During the match, a fan sitting in the BYU student section repeatedly yelled a racial slur at Richardson every time she served the ball, her family said. Richardson noted the racial slurs escalated throughout the match and some comments, “grew into threats which caused [her] to feel unsafe.”

“My Goddaughter is the only Black starter for Dukes volleyball team,” Richardson’s godmother, Lesa Pamplin, wrote on Twitter yesterday. “While playing yesterday, she was called a n— every time she served. She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus.”

In the middle of the match, Duke’s volleyball players told officials and BYU’s coaching staff about the situation. The fan was not removed from the game. BYU placed a police officer on the bench in the middle of the game, according to Richardson’s family.

“Why wasn’t the fan removed? After the notification was made to officials and the coaching staff was made aware, why wasn’t something done then?” Marvin Richardson, the player’s father, said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “That would be my question. I’ve attended university basketball games at Duke, and when something got out of hand, Coach K picked up the mic and said, ‘Hey knock it off.’ Why didn’t that happen here?”

“I don’t know why you would ask a police officer to stand on the floor unless there is a fear that something is going on that shouldn’t be happening,” he continued. “I believe that was the case.”

BYU banned the fan from university venues on Saturday, but did not specify the duration. The athletic department says the fan was not a student, even though they were sitting in the student section.

“When last night’s behavior was initially reported by Duke, there was no individual pointed out,” a BYU spokesperson said. “Despite BYU security and event management’s efforts, they were not able to identify a perpetrator of racial slurs. It wasn’t until after the game that an individual was identified by Duke who they believed were uttering the slurs and exhibiting problematic behaviors. That is the individual who has been banned. We understand that the Duke players’ experience is what matters here. They felt unsafe and hurt, and we were unable to address that during the game in a manner that was sufficient.”

Richardson said she did not want the game to be stopped until the fan was removed.

“Although the heckling eventually took a mental toll on me,” Rachel Richardson said in her statement. “I refused to allow it to stop me from doing what I love to do and what I came to BYU to do; which was to play volleyball. I refused to allow those racist bigots to feel any degree of satisfaction from thinking that their comments had ‘gotten to me.’”

Marvin Richardson said he understood why his daughter wanted to keep playing. However, he believes the correct action would have been to stop the game. That, he believes, was a decision coaches and university officials should have made.

Rachel Richardson said she did “not believe this is in any way a reflection of what BYU athletes stand for.”

On Saturday morning, the player met with BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe. Rachel Richardson said Holmoe was “respectful and genuine” in their conversation.

On Saturday night, Holmoe addressed fans before BYU’s volleyball match.

“As children of God, we are responsible, it is our mission to love one another and treat everybody with respect and that didn’t happen,” the Cougars’ athletics director told fans before Saturday’s volleyball match. “We fell very short.”

“I ask that everyone at any of our games who represents BYU, that you will have the courage to take a stand and be able to take care of each other and, more importantly, the guests, our guests, who we invite to come play here.”

BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead issued a statement on Sunday.

“Racism in any form has no place at BYU, or anywhere else,” she said. “I apologize for what the Duke student-athletes experienced during our match on Friday. We must do better. I have been able to have productive conversations with the student-athlete who was impacted the most Friday night, Rachel Richardson, the Duke volleyball team captain and the Duke volleyball head coach. They have helped me understand areas where we can do better.”

Rachel Richardson called on Holmoe and BYU to institute actionable steps. This included “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.”

“This is an opportunity to dig deep into closed cultures which tolerate amoral racist acts, such as those exhibited Friday night, and change them for the better,” Richardson said in her statement. “It is not enough to indicate that you are not racist, instead you must demonstrate that you are anti-racist.”