Man Banned From BYU Doesn't Appear to Have Used Slur

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There was the accusation, the outrage, the punishment, the mea culpa among top administrators, and finally (it seemed) the constructive exchange between athletic director and alleged victim. Now come new questions.

Did authorities get the wrong guy? Was there a crime after all?

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Brigham Young University campus police say it doesn’t appear the man who was eventually banned from all BYU athletics venues was the person shouting the N-word at a visiting Duke University volleyball last week.

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, the lone Black starter on the team, has said she “very distinctly” heard a “very strong and negative racial slur” come from the student section during Friday’s match while she was serving.

Related: BYU Apologizes to Duke, Bans Fan After Racist Incident

BYU Police lieutenant George Besendorfer said Tuesday that based on an initial review of surveillance footage of the crowd, the individual who was banned wasn’t shouting anything while the Duke player was serving. “When we watched the video, we did not observe that behavior from him,” Besendorfer said.

“Various BYU Athletics employees have been reviewing video from BYUtv and other cameras in the facility that the volleyball team has access to for film review. This has been ongoing since right after the match on Friday night,” BYU associate athletic director Jon McBride said in a statement, as reported by the Tribune. “The person who was banned was the person identified by Duke as using racial slurs. However, we have been unable to find any evidence of that person using slurs in the match.”

Based on those reports, that could mean a second person, who did shout the slur, has not yet been identified and has not had any action taken against them by the Provo-based university. BYU has not said it doubts Richardson’s account, and it is still investigating.

The school is asking for fans in attendance to share video and accounts from the match to help with the investigation. At the following day's volleyball match, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe encouraged them to, as well, asking fans to “have the courage to take a stand and take care of each other and more importantly the guests, our guests who we invited to come and play here.”

Related: BYU's AD Calls for Widespread Investment in Anti-Racism

The police report says that on Sunday, someone left a threatening voicemail for a BYU athletic coach. The report does not identify the coach or provide details about the anonymous message.

The report, with names redacted, was obtained by Tribune through a public records request. It says the fan who was banned approached a Duke volleyball player after the game Friday in an interaction she reported made her uncomfortable. The police report says the fan “got in the face” of the player, who is not identified, but doesn’t note if anything was said.

The player’s family has said she was approached by a white man who told her to watch her back.

Duke coaches and players identified that man as the same one who yelled the N-word from the BYU student section at Richardson, according to the police report.

Police talked to the man, who’s identified in the report as a Utah Valley University student, and he denied shouting any slurs. He said the only thing he yelled was that the players “shouldn’t hit the ball into the net.” He acknowledged that he did approach the Duke player after the match, thinking she was a friend of his who played for BYU (their uniforms are the same color, the officer noted).

An officer later reviewed footage, according to the report, and wrote: “There was nothing seen on the game film that led me to believe” that the man “was the person who was making comments to the player who complained about being called the N-word.”

During the match’s second set, the officer observed, the UVU student was not present when Richardson was serving, which is when Richardson’s family and Duke officials said the slurs were yelled. And later, when she was serving again, he was playing on his phone, the officer wrote.

But the officers said the athletic department wanted to ban the man, so the school moved forward with that process. The officer told the man not to come to any future games “indefinitely,” according to the report.

In a statement after the match, BYU said only that an individual “identified by Duke” was banned.

When asked if police had reviewed footage further to see who was yelling the slur — because they were able to see that the banned UVU student likely was not — Besendorfer said the police department is no longer looking at the video.

He said the task of reviewing the footage has been taken over by BYU athletics and the school’s communication administration. “There’s a bunch of video,” Besendorfer said. “Athletics and university communication, they are looking at all of that.”

It’s unclear whether any staff there have forensic experience in investigating video footage. A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Tribune request for comment Tuesday night on that question.

It also raises questions about what in the investigation will be public. BYU’s police department is subject to public records requests. Other departments, including athletics, at the private school operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not.

So far, Besendorfer also informed the Tribune, no one from the student section or elsewhere at the volleyball match last week has come forward to BYU police to report the individual responsible for the slur. He also said no one has come forward to say they heard the slur being shouted during the match. He implored students who heard the comments to call police dispatch.

According to the school's honor code, students are supposed to come forward in situations like this “to maintain the highest standards in their personal conduct regarding honor, integrity, morality, and consideration of others.”

Because of safety concerns raised by the Duke players, their next match against Rider was moved off the Provo campus the day after Richardson reported hearing the slur. BYU also played again on Saturday, where Holmoe urged any fans who were witnesses to come forward.

Richardson's own account is that racial slurs escalated into the match's fourth set, after Duke had taken the side of the court closest to the BYU student section, and grew into threats.

A police officer said he talked to coaching staff from both teams that night and learned that Duke staff members were mad that he didn’t take action during the fourth set while the taunting continued. They said the Black players were being called out by name and by name only, while none of the white players were.

“I told the athletic staff that I never heard one racial comment being made,” the officer wrote in his report. The officer reported he also talked to others there who said they had not heard a slur.

The morning after the match in question, Richardson met with Holmoe, BYU’s athletic director, in the team hotel. BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead also said she spoke with Richardson at a separate time.

Richardson specified what she wanted Holmoe and BYU to do, including “staff and players undergoing education and training to better handle and prevent the racist, ignorant and asinine behaviors that were exhibited by their fans during the match.”

“I very much so felt heard and felt seen during that conversation,” she said of her meeting. “I could feel and I could see how sorry he was and honestly shocked that it happened.”

She said several BYU volleyball players have also reached out to her “just expressing how sorry they were.”

“That is a great group of girls. They were so sweet,” Richardson said. “Acted so sportsmanlike before the game, after the game, during the game.”

She added: “I just see it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that racist incidents such as these, they still are happening. It’s 2022 and it should be unacceptable, but it’s still happening.”

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