Tad Walch, Deseret News, September 9, 2022
After an intensive investigation, there is no evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans used racial slurs during the BYU-Duke volleyball match on Aug. 26, Brigham Young University said Friday morning in a news release.
The investigation included reaching out to more than 50 eyewitnesses, including Duke and BYU volleyball players and athletic department personnel. The university also said its investigation reviewed extensive video and audio of the match.
“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 BYU release said.
During the match on Aug. 26, Duke outside hitter Rachel Richardson said she heard racial slurs during the second set while she served two balls in front of the ROC student section of fans.
She told a teammate about the slurs while the teams switched sides of the court following the set, and the two players told Duke coach Jolene Nagel. Nagel spoke with BYU coach Heather Olmstead, and BYU immediately sent a police officer and four ushers into the student section.
Richardson said she heard the slurs more intensely in the fourth set, when the ushers, BYU Police Det. Sgt. Richard Laursen and a Duke assistant athletic director stood near where she served and by the student section.
“I told the (BYU) Athletic staff that I never heard one racial comment being made,” Laursen said in his police report.
After the match, BYU banned a fan who Duke said had used the N-word and had made a player uncomfortable after the match. The fan is not a BYU student.
Laursen stood next to the man throughout the fourth set and said the man did not use any racist language. Laursen said he believed the man may have “(A)sperger syndrome or could have autism.”
BYU dropped the ban on the fan on Friday.
“We have not found any evidence that that individual engaged in such an activity,” the school’s statement said. “BYU sincerely apologizes to that fan for any hardship the ban has caused.”
Duke freshman Christina Barrow, one of four Black players on the team, told The News & Observer in North Carolina last week that she did not hear the slurs in the loud arena, but she and her teammates stood by Richardson.
Duke University vice president and athletic director Nina King issued a statement Friday following the release of the BYU investigation’s conclusions.
“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. Duke Athletics believes in respect, equality and inclusiveness, and we do not tolerate hate and bias.”
BYU did not mention Richardson, who initially criticized BYU on Twitter for not doing more to stop the slurs during the match.
BYU, athletic director Tom Holmoe and women’s volleyball coach Heather Olmstead immediately apologized to Richardson and stood with her against racism. The school continued to stand with her throughout the investigation.
The investigation’s conclusions call into question commentaries condemning BYU students and fans for not immediately stopping the abusive language.
ESPN personalities Stephen A. Smith, Michael Irvin and Marcus Spears ripped BYU for what Smith called dereliction of duty for not stopping the banned fan from hurling the alleged slurs as they happened.
Irvin, for example, said “This was a gym, so everyone heard this kid. … No one comes out clean.”
Instead, BYU’s investigation found that no one else in the sold-out gym could hear the slurs.
Olmstead, the BYU women’s volleyball coach, received death threats. Olmstead learned after the second set that Richardson said she’d heard racist slurs and immediately reported them to BYU athletic department personnel and event staff.
The findings also have implications for the University of South Carolina’s decision to pull out of its contract for a home-and-home basketball series with BYU.
A group of South Carolina legislators said they will investigate USC women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley’s decision to drop the game before the conclusion of BYU’s investigation.