The Brigham Young University athletic department said Friday that it had concluded an investigation into the alleged racial taunts at an Aug. 26 volleyball match and found no evidence corroborating those claims.
The alleged incident drew national attention after Rachel Richardson, the lone Black starter in Duke University's lineup, claimed a racial slur was directed at her while she was serving. The slurs were taken as threats to the safety of Richardson and her teammates.
BYU apologized, and its athletic director called for widespread tolerance after speaking directly with Richardson. But it later became apparent that the individual who BYU announced it was banning from all athletic venues for perpetrating the taunts hadn't said anything like what Richardson said she heard. In fact, no one could be found to have heard anything resembling a slur during the BYU-Duke match.
"As a result of our investigation, we have lifted the ban on the fan who was identified as having uttered racial slurs during the match," the university said in a statement, as reported by CNN. "We have not found any evidence that that individual engaged in such an activity. BYU sincerely apologizes to that fan for any hardship the ban has caused."
Richardson, a sophomore, tweeted a statement on August 28 alleging she and other Black players were subjected to racist harassment during the match two days earlier. Richardson claimed BYU officials failed to act even after being made aware of the incident.
Duke University vice president and director of athletics Nina King released a statement Friday following BYU's statement.
"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."
The mere suggestion of a slur has had ramifications beyond the seemingly erroneous ban of one fan, and unlike the ban, this one may not be reversible. The University of South Carolina women's basketball program pulled out of a scheduled two-game series with BYU over the slur situation. The first game was supposed to open the upcoming season.
Richardson's father told CNN that his daughter was "afraid" and phone him in tears after the match. Marvin Richardson said he had "no clue" what had taken place during the contest as he watched it on TV, but his daughter explained her experience to him in detail afterward.
"After the game, we always talk and she called, but this was a different call," Marvin told CNN. "She was crying, she was upset and Rachel's not the person who calls and cries over a loss, It's just not who she is. So we knew something was wrong and then as she started to tell us what was going on and what had happened during the game, first anger, outrage and then just a real need to make sure something was done to correct the things that came across us."
BYU said it reviewed audio and video recordings, along with university broadcast footage, and interviewed more than 50 people at the match, as well as Duke and BYU athletic personnel and student-athletes.
"As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe. That is the reason for our immediate response and our thorough investigation," the statement said.
"Despite being unable to find supporting evidence of racial slurs in the many recordings and interviews, we hope that all those involved will understand our sincere efforts to ensure that all student-athletes competing at BYU feel safe."