Brigham Young University has banned a spectator from attending any of its athletic venues after an incident in which a racial slur was directed toward a Duke player 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 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, as reported by The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. “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 exact duration of the spectator's ban wasn't immediately clear.
According to The News & Observer, the match was part of 10th-ranked BYU’s doTERRA Classic. As a result, Duke announced Saturday that its match with Rider, originally scheduled to be at Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday, would be moved to another gym in Provo.
“First and foremost, our priority is the wellbeing 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.”
Duke sophomore outside hitter Rachel Richardson, who is Black, was the target of the slur, according to Lesa Pamplin, who said she is Richardson’s godmother. On her Twitter account Saturday afternoon, Pamplin said Richardson was called the n-word “every time she served.”
“She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus,” Pamplin said on Twitter, as reported by The News & Observer. “A police officer had to be put by their bench.”
Pamplin said Richardson was “upset” and “traumatized.”
Richardson, 19, posted a statement on her Twitter account Sunday in which she said, "No athlete, regardless of their race should ever be subject to such hostile conditions."
“This is not the first time this has happened in college athletics and sadly it likely will not be the last time,” Richardson said. “However, each time it happens we as student-athletes, coaches, fans and administrators have a chance to educate those who act in hateful ways.”
“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, which Duke won. Richardson started, recording five kills and leading the team with three service aces, according to The News & Observer.
“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.”
Utah governor Spencer Cox weighed in by Saturday evening, issuing a statement on Twitter denouncing not only the fan, but 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.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Richardson’s father, Marvin Richardson, said BYU did not eject the fan from the event, allowing the behavior to continue throughout the match. When Duke players complained to referees about the behavior, a police officer was placed on the bench. Both coaching staffs were made aware of the situation, Richardson said, but the match was not stopped.
“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 told the Tribune. “That would be my question. I’ve attend 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. I believe that was the case.”
Richardson said his daughter met Saturday morning with BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe. BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead was supposed to attend the meeting, Marvin Richardson said, but did not show up.
“The coach, for whatever reason, did not appear,” the father said. “I think that is an issue. As far as I’m concerned, the coach is the first administrator on the scene. You are the coach on the floor. For her not to be there to give an account, for what I believe to be nothing more than out of respect for the player and situation ... for whatever reason she did not appear. That in it of itself sends a message."
The elder Richardson said he was appreciative of Holmoe's immediate reaction, but will be watching what BYU does from here.
“He was very remorseful from my understanding of my daughter’s conversation with him,” Richardson said. “We appreciate the acknowledgement [in the statements by the school]. But proof of real change comes through the results of the actions taken. So whatever actions BYU athletics take to not only address and correct this, but to ensure it doesn’t happen into the future, that is where I will judge whether or not this situation was handled appropriately.”
As reported by the Tribune, BYU addressed its response, stating Saturday, “When last night’s behavior was initially reported by Duke, there was no individual pointed out. 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.”
On Saturday night, BYU defeated Washington State 3 to 0 on Saturday night to close out the doTERRA Classic. As reported by KSL radio in Salt Lake City, there were changes made to the seating for fans during the game. Members of BYU’s student section, “The ROC,” were not seated courtside behind Washington State’s servers.
According to KSL, Tom Holmoe, BYU’s longtime athletic director spoke to the crowd before the game with a message that he summed up in a tweet, “we’ve got to be better, and we’ve got to have the courage to take care of each other and our guests at our BYU sporting events.”