Brigham Young athletics lifted the ban on the fan who Duke’s volleyball team accused of directing racial slurs at a Black player during a game on its campus last month.
In a statement Friday, BYU said its investigation — which involved interviews with more than 50 people who attended the event and reviewing video and audio footage — found no corroborating evidence. It also apologized to the person who was banned.
“As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe,” the statement said. “That is the reason for our immediate response and our thorough investigation.”
Before and after BYU’s 3-1 win over Duke at Smith Fieldhouse on Aug. 26, Duke sophomore middle hitter Rachel Richardson said she heard racial slurs yelled in her direction numerous times when the Blue Devils served on the end of the court near the student section.
BYU placed a campus police officer near the Duke bench following her complaints.
“My fellow African-American teammates and I were targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match,” Richardson said in a statement on Aug. 28. “The slurs and comments grew into threats, which caused us to feel unsafe.”
She repeated the complaints during subsequent interviews with ABC and ESPN on Aug. 30.
In an interview with The News & Observer, Duke freshman volleyball player Christina Barrow said she didn’t hear any such language but that Richardson told her teammates during the game about it.
“Rachel was the first one who told all of us,” said Barrow, a reserve who didn’t see any game action at BYU. “And even at first, when she first heard it, she was kind of confused like that, ‘Did I just hear that?’ And then when she heard it a second, third, continuous times, she was like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely hearing that.’ And that’s when we made our coaches aware of everything.”
Following the game, Duke’s players identified the person they said used the slurs.
The following day, BYU announced it had banned one person based on Duke’s identification. At Duke’s request, it also moved the Blue Devils game with Rider, scheduled for Smith Fieldhouse, to a local high school off BYU’s campus.
In the two weeks since, BYU said it “reached out to more than 50 individuals who attended the event: Duke athletic department personnel and student-athletes, BYU athletic department personnel and student-athletes, event security and management and fans who were in the arena that evening, including many of the fans in the on-court student section.”
The result was no evidence to support Richardson’s claims.
But a 2021 internal report, authored by BYU’s Committee on Race, Equity, and Belonging, stated “there appears to be no cohesive ‘ownership’ or accountability for promoting an enriched environment or the values of racial equity and belonging at BYU.”
A member of BYU’s Black Student Union told the report’s authors that, “My experience as a Black student at BYU is not equal to other students on campus because I don’t feel safe.”
Duke athletics director Nina King, in a statement Friday, said she stands with the Duke volleyball team’s actions.
“The 18 members of the Duke University volleyball team are exceptionally strong women who represent themselves, their families, and Duke University with the utmost integrity,” King said. “We unequivocally stand with and champion them, especially when their character is called into question. Duke Athletics believes in respect, equality and inclusiveness, and we do not tolerate hate and bias.”
This story was originally published September 9, 2022 12:11 PM.
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