Brigham Young University banned a spectator from attending events at any of its athletic venues after an incident in which racial slurs were directed toward Black Duke players during a volleyball match on its campus Friday night.
In a statement issued Saturday, university officials said the banned spectator is not a BYU student but was sitting in the student section during the No. 10-ranked Cougars’ 3-1 win over Duke in Provo, Utah. A crowd of 5,507, a record for a volleyball match at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse, attended the match.
“To say we are extremely disheartened in the actions of a small number of fans in last night’s volleyball match in Smith Fieldhouse between BYU and Duke is not strong enough language,” the statement said. “We will not tolerate behavior of this kind. Specifically, the use of a racial slur at any of our athletic events is absolutely unacceptable and BYU athletics holds a zero-tolerance approach to this behavior.”
The match was part of BYU’s doTERRA Classic, in which Duke played two games Friday and one on Saturday.
Duke sophomore outside hitter Rachel Richardson, who is Black, released a statement Sunday saying she and her Black teammates were “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match.”
Richardson said the slurs and comments “grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe.”
During a phone interview Sunday, Marvin Richardson, Rachel’s father, said she called him as soon as she was on the bus after Duke’s competition ended Friday night. The two spoke for several hours, until past 2 a.m. Eastern time.
“We were up well into the night here,” Marvin Richardson said. “Just trying to make sure that we were able to support her and listen to her and be there for her.”
He said his daughter’s emotional distress was clear over the phone, as soon as their conversation began.
“She was crying and afraid and I wasn’t there to be able to make her feel safe,” the elder Richardson said. He said he’d been in touch with administrators both at Duke and BYU.
Richardson has two other daughters who played college volleyball. While traveling the country for years to follow his children’s competitions, he said he and his family had never experienced anything like what Rachel endured on Friday.
“No one else should have to deal with this,” he said. “So we have to do everything that we can, and take every opportunity, to call these kinds of situations out for what they are. That is wrong, they are hateful, and they are wrong, and they have no place in college athletics, or in any other place in our society.”
On Saturday, Duke announced its match with Rider, originally scheduled to be at Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday, would be moved to another gym in Provo. The game was played at a local high school, with only staff and family members allowed to attend.
“First and foremost, our priority is the well-being of Duke student-athletes,” Duke athletics director Nina King said in a statement. “They should always have the opportunity to compete in an inclusive, anti-racist environment which promotes equality and fair play. Following extremely unfortunate circumstances at Friday night’s match at BYU, we are compelled to shift today’s match against Rider to a different location to afford both teams the safest atmosphere for competition.”
Richardson, in her statement, said BYU coaches were alerted to the situation during the game.
“We wholeheartedly apologize to Duke University and especially its student-athletes competing last night for what they experienced,” BYU’s statement said. “We want BYU athletic events to provide a safe environment for all and there is no place for behaviors like this in our venues.”
King said more than one Duke player felt the effects of the incident, thus Duke’s insistence on relocating Saturday’s match.
“We are appreciative of the support from BYU’s athletic administration as we navigate this troubling situation,” King said. “I have been in touch with the student-athletes who have been deeply impacted, will continue to support them in every way possible and look forward to connecting further upon their return from Provo.”
Duke defeated Rider, 3-1, on Saturday night. Richardson started, recording five kills and leading the team with three service aces.
Prior to BYU’s volleyball match with Washington State later Saturday night at Smith Fieldhouse, BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe addressed the incident, which he said involved “some egregious and hurtful slurs,” in a speech to the crowd.
“I want you to know that this morning, I visited with the young athlete on Duke’s team and her coach,” Holmoe said. “If you would have met her, you would have loved her. But you don’t know her, so you don’t feel that way. As children of God, we are responsible. It’s our mission to love one another and treat everyone with respect. That didn’t happen. We fell very short. We didn’t live up to our best.”
On Sunday, Duke president Vince Price released a statement condemning the events and promising support for the team in the coming days.
“I am outraged by the racist slurs and taunts directed at members of our volleyball team at BYU this weekend,” Price said. “Duke is fully committed to providing a safe, inclusive environment for competition, and we will not tolerate any racism or harassment of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, or fans.”
Saturday night, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued a statement on Twitter denouncing the fan who used the racial slur and the way the situation was handled.
“I’m disgusted that this behavior is happening and deeply saddened if others didn’t step up to stop it,” Cox said.
This story was originally published August 27, 2022 5:50 PM.
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