BYU AD Tom Holmoe defends athletic department’s response to racial slur report, says investigation is ongoing

Holmoe also defended BYU coach Heather Olmstead, saying she did not skip meeting with Richardson the next day

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University athletic director Tom Holmoe, left, is joined remotely by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, right for the announcement of BYU's acceptance into the Big 12 conference at a press conference in Provo, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe defended his athletic department’s response to allegations of racial slurs being used at a volleyball match last Friday and said the investigation into who said them is still ongoing.

A week after Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson said a fan in BYU’s student section repeatedly called her the N-word during a match, Holmoe gave his own timeline of BYU’s response to Richardson’s complaints.

In doing so, he defended BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead’s actions both during and after the contest.

“I want to address a percolating narrative that BYU (and even Duke) did not do anything to address the situation,” Holmoe wrote in a column published in the Deseret News.

According to Holmoe, BYU’s coaching staff was first alerted about Richardson’s complaint during the match. At that point, Olmstead told the event management staff about what she heard, Holmoe said.

Four BYU staff members and a uniformed police officer were then placed in the student section, Holmoe said. Duke’s athletics administrator soon joined them.

“Olmstead’s reaction in alerting event management staff was immediate and decisive,” Holmoe wrote. “The crowd was large and boisterous but there were no observations of racist behavior.”

Richardson said last week that she first heard the slur when she was serving the ball in the second set of the match. Immediately after the set, she told Duke’s coaches, who in turn told the game officials and BYU’s coaching staff, she says.

A police report indicated that BYU first told police officers about the situation in the third set of the match. An officer was placed on Duke’s bench at that point of the match, but the game continued to its conclusion.

“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.

According to Holmoe, Duke eventually identified the person they believed to be making the racial slurs after the match. BYU escorted that person from the arena and was banned indefinitely from future events, according to multiple reports.

However, a police report indicated the person banned by BYU wasn’t shouting anything while Richardson was serving. Instead, the person banned “got in the face” of a Duke player after the match, the police say.

It is not clear if the person who “got in the face” of a Duke player is the same one that Richardson’s family said told her to “watch her back” to the team bus.

Holmoe later said in his statement that BYU is still looking for the person who said the racial slur.

“BYU has continued to carefully review all event audio and video in search of any racist statements or behavior,” Holmoe wrote. “The game video is publicly available on BYUtv, and we welcome anyone who might have more information of any inappropriate behavior from the event to reach out to the university. But the narrative that our coaching staff didn’t take immediate action is unsubstantiated and unfair.”

The day after the match, Richardson’s father told The Salt Lake Tribune that Olmstead skipped a meeting with the Duke player.

Holmoe says that Olmstead was not invited to the meeting by either Duke or Richardson. Instead, he says he met with her one-on-one in the team hotel.

“Another false narrative is that Olmstead refused to meet with Rachel and me on Saturday morning,” Holmoe said. “In my conversations with the Duke head coach about meeting with Rachel, Heather was never asked by Duke or Rachel to be in that meeting.”

BYU, and Holmoe, continue to say they do not doubt Richardson’s claim, and are still investigating.

“Let me be clear where BYU stands on this issue: racism is disgusting and unacceptable,” Holmoe wrote. “We have worked to understand and follow-up on Rachel’s experience with sincere commitment and ongoing concern.”