Duke women’s volleyball player’s racial-slur claim comes under scrutiny

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NCAA women’s volleyball was put under a cloud of controversy over the weekend when Duke player Rachel Richardson said she was subjected to racial slurs during at a game against BYU in Utah.

Richardson said BYU officials did not react quickly enough to address the situation. BYU said the fan was not a student but was sitting in the student section and banned the fan from all athletic venues on campus.

On Tuesday, BYU officials said they were still investigating the alleged incident. BYU police Lt. George Besendorfer said an initial investigation of the footage from the crowd did not appear to show the person who was banned shouting anything while Richardson was serving.


A detail image of the Duke Blue Devils flag during the national anthem before the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Villanova Wildcats during the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal at Caesars Superdome on April 02, 2022 in New Orleans.
(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“When we watched the video, we did not observe that behavior from him,” Besendorfter said, via the Salt Lake Tribune.

BYU associate athletic director Jon McBride added that several athletics employees have been combing through all the footage the team has access to and have not found evidence of racial slurs being shouted.

“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,” McBride said in a statement. “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.”

Richardson’s godmother, Lesa Pamplin, alleged in a tweet that the volleyball player was called a racial slur “every time she served.” Pamplin also tweeted that Richardson “was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus. A police officer had to be put by their bench.”

A police report obtained by the Salt Lake Tribute indicated someone left a threatening voicemail for a BYU coach on Sunday. The report said the fan who was banned from the BYU venues approached a Duke player after the game Friday and made the player feel “uncomfortable.”

The police report stated the fan “got in the face,” of the Duke player, according to the newspaper. However, the names were redacted in the report. Police said Duke coaches and players identified the man as being the one who allegedly shouted the N-word at Richardson from the Cougars’ student section.

The man, who was identified as a Utah Valley University student, denied shouting racial slurs but admitted yelling at the players that they “shouldn’t hit the ball into the net.” The man then admitted to approaching the Duke player but claimed he thought she was a friend of his who played for BYU, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.


General view of LaVell Edwards Stadium prior to the game between the Utah Utes and the Brigham Young Cougars on September 9, 2017 in Provo, Utah. 

General view of LaVell Edwards Stadium prior to the game between the Utah Utes and the Brigham Young Cougars on September 9, 2017 in Provo, Utah. 
(Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

In the report, an officer wrote they did not see anything on the film that led them to believe the man who was alleged to have made racial slurs actually made them.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe asked students to come forward with any information that have regarding the incident.

“As children of God, we are responsible,” Holmoe said. “It is our mission to love one another and treat everyone with respect. And that didn’t happen. We fell very short.”

Richardson appeared on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” on Tuesday and claimed that by the fourth set, the slurs were escalated. Police said in their report the man was not by the student section during the second set, when Richardson’s family initially said the racial slurs occurred.

“In the fourth set, we went back to that side, and it was almost as if the atmosphere of the student section had changed. Even my Black teammates who were on the bench, who don’t play, they were being called out, pointed at and it was really confusing as to why. That’s when the racial slurs and heckling just grew more and more intense,” Richardson said Tuesday.

According to the newspaper, Besendorfer was asked whether authorities were reviewed videos further to see who was yelling the alleged slur. Besendorfer replied the police were no longer looking at the footage.

Richardson is the lone Black starter on the volleyball squad.

“We stand against any form of racism, bigotry or hatred. As a program we have worked extensively to create an inclusive and safe environment where our student-athletes feel heard and supported but are not naive to the fact that there is always work to be done,” Duke volleyball said in a statement Sunday.

NCAA Logos are featured during the Division I Women's Volleyball Semifinals held at PPG Paints Arena on December 19, 2019, in Pittsburgh.

NCAA Logos are featured during the Division I Women's Volleyball Semifinals held at PPG Paints Arena on December 19, 2019, in Pittsburgh.
(Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

“We will continue to empower our student-athletes to use their voices in the fight against all types of injustice. From the beginning, our team has been adamant that hate will not win, nor prevent them from playing a game they love with the people they love.”


The match between Duke and BYU was a part of the doTERRA Classic. Washington State and Rider University were also involved in the tournament. BYU said 5,507 people were in attendance for the match against Duke.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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