BYU says it found no corroborating evidence of racial heckling toward Duke women’s volleyball player

BYU says it found no evidence of racial heckling during a women’s volleyball match against Duke last month after what the school called an “extensive review” of the incident.

Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson, who is Black, alleged that she repeatedly heard a racial slur directed at her during the Aug. 26 match from someone sitting in BYU’s student section. Richardson’s godmother also said the player was called a racial slur “every time she served.”

BYU banned a fan from all its athletic events shortly after Richardson’s allegations but has lifted the ban following its investigation, which the school says included reviewing all available video and audio recordings and contacting more than 50 people who attended the event, including some Duke athletes and staff members. The review included security camera footage and footage from BYUtv with broadcasting audio removed.

“From our extensive review, we have not found any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event,” BYU said Friday in a statement. “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.

“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. 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.”

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BYU communicated the results of the investigation to Duke before releasing its statement, the school told ESPN. The schools’ athletic directors, BYU’s Tom Holmoe and Duke’s Nina King, have been in regular communication throughout the investigation.

Richardson had informed her coaches about the heckling during the match. She later told ESPN’s Holly Rowe of the incident: “I heard a very strong, negative racial slur. … So I served the ball, got through the play. And then the next time I went back to serve, I heard it extremely clear again, but that was the end of the game.”

Holmoe met with Richardson on Aug. 27 and made several changes to its fan code of conduct, including relocating where volleyball fans are seated during matches. Richardson praised Holmoe for his approach to the incident, telling Rowe, “I could see how sorry he was and honestly shocked that it happened.”

Duke AD King on Friday expressed the university’s support for Richardson and all members of the school’s volleyball team.

“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 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.”

Richardson’s godmother, Lesa Pamplin, had initially drawn attention to the alleged slur by tweeting about it. She said Friday she did not accept BYU’s findings.

“BYU’s statement today does not change my position,” Pamplin said in a statement. “In fact, the statement and the ‘findings’ are in keeping with what I — and many others — anticipated.

“Daily across America, the burden of proof — in instances like these involving people of color, as well as marginalized people, economically disadvantaged people, and disempowered people — is shifted unfairly and without hesitation.”

In its statement Friday, BYU reiterated its commitment to a zero tolerance policy for racism at any of its athletic events.

“There will be some who assume we are being selective in our review,” the statement reads. “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. 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.”

The South Carolina women’s basketball team recently canceled a home-and-home series against BYU, citing the incident at the Duke-BYU volleyball match.

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley issued a statement later Friday, saying she stands by her decision to cancel the series.

“After my personal research, I made a decision for the well-being of my team,” Staley said. “I regret that my university, my athletics director Ray Tanner and others got drawn into the criticism of a choice that I made.”

BYU had said it was “extremely disappointed” with South Carolina’s decision and asked for patience as it reviewed the allegations.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.