The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

BYU says probe found no evidence of racial slurs at Duke volleyball player

BYU completed its investigation into an alleged racist incident at a volleyball match last month. (iStock)
4 min

Brigham Young University announced Friday that a school investigation found no evidence that a fan at a women’s volleyball match against Duke on Aug. 26 yelled racial slurs toward a Blue Devils player.

Lesa Pamplin, an attorney in Fort Worth, tweeted after the match that her goddaughter, Duke outside hitter Rachel Richardson, was called a racial slur “every time she served” during the match. Pamplin also said Richardson, a sophomore from Ellicott City, Md., who is the only Black starter on the team, was “threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus.”

Richardson described the scene on Twitter, writing that “my fellow African American teammates and I were targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match. The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe. 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’s father, Marvin, also said that a student was yelling racial slurs toward his daughter but was allowed to remain at the match. He said a police officer was later placed on the Duke bench.

But BYU said Friday its investigation did not find “any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event.”

“We reviewed all available video and audio recordings, including security footage and raw footage from all camera angles taken by BYUtv of the match, with broadcasting audio removed (to ensure that the noise from the stands could be heard more clearly),” the school said in a statement. “We also reached out to more than 50 individuals who attended the event: Duke athletic department personnel and student-athletes, BYU athletic department personnel and student-athletes, event security and management and fans who were in the arena that evening, including many of the fans in the on-court student section.”

BYU initially apologized to Duke after the incident and banned the student who was accused of yelling racial slurs toward Richardson, but the ban was lifted Friday. The school “sincerely apologizes to that fan for any hardship the ban has caused,” it said in the statement.

“There will be some who assume we are being selective in our review,” the school said. “To the contrary, we have tried to be as thorough as possible in our investigation, and we renew our invitation for anyone with evidence contrary to our findings to come forward and share it.”

Neither Richardson nor Pamplin have commented after Friday’s announcement.

“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,” Duke Athletic Director Nina King said in a statement. “We unequivocally stand with and champion them, especially when their character is called into question. Duke Athletics believes in respect, equality and inclusiveness, and we do not tolerate hate and bias.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, BYU police spoke to the man who allegedly yelled the slurs after the match, identifying him as a student at Utah Valley University. The man denied yelling the slurs, telling police that the only thing he yelled was that the players “shouldn’t hit the ball into the net.” In a police report, an officer who reviewed video footage wrote that the man was not observed yelling racial slurs when he was alleged to have done so by Richardson’s family and Duke officials.

After the incident, the South Carolina women’s basketball team canceled a home-and-home series against the Cougars. The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against the Cougars on Nov. 7, then play in Provo, Utah, during the 2023-24 season.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina last week. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”