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Duke Volleyball Player Says BYU Failed To Handle Fan Yelling Racial Slurs At Her

Rachel Richardson preparing to serve during the second set.
Screenshot: BYUTV

After her team played at BYU this past Friday, Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson said a fan in the Cougars student section repeatedly yelled racial slurs at her and her teammates. Rather than protect Richardson and the other players or handle the incident swiftly, BYU officials waited until a public outcry to take action, and did such a bad job that Richardson called them out for it.

News about the racist fan first broke when Richardson’s godmother Lesa Pamplin tweeted about the slurs, and said her goddaughter was also “threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus.” Richardson’s father Marvin told the Salt Lake Tribune that the fan was allowed to stay in the arena despite Duke players’ complaints to the game’s referee. Officials did station a cop by the Duke bench, which wasn’t a solution to the issue.

BYU released a statement on Saturday, in which it announced the fan had been banned for some unspecified period of time and pointed out that the fan was sitting in the student section but was not a student at the school. The university, founded by and named after an LDS president who once argued in favor of slavery because he believed black people could not rule themselves, said it would not tolerate “behavior of this kind.” Marvin Richardson told journalist Roland Martin that his daughter was supposed to meet with BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and volleyball head coach Heather Olmstead on Saturday, but Olmstead didn’t show up. Holmoe later said Olmstead spoke to Richardson at a different time. Before Saturday’s game, Holmoe addressed BYU fans, told them about his meeting with Richardson, and assured them that “if you would have met her, you would have loved her.” OK?

After a weekend of BYU bungling its response, Richardson released a statement of her own, calling out school officials for failing to support her and her teammates. “The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe,” Richardson wrote in a statement released Sunday. “Both the officials and BYU 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 addressed the idea that she and her teammates had an obligation to stop playing, pointing out that shutting down racist abuse from the crowd was BYU’s responsibility, not hers. “Although the heckling eventually took a mental toll on me, 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,” she wrote. “I refused to allow those racist bigots to feel any degree of satisfaction from thinking that their comments had ‘gotten to me.’ So, I pushed through and finished the game.”

Duke played their third game of the tournament in a different venue with a limited crowd. They beat Rider, 3-1, with Richardson leading the team with three aces.