Duke volleyball player recalls racial slurs at BYU: 'We are proud to stand up against racism'

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PROVO — A day after BYU banned a fan who they say used a racial slur during the Cougars' women's volleyball match against Duke, the player who was the target of the attack shared her encounter in the Smith Fieldhouse that BYU officials called "unacceptable."

Rachel Richardson, a sophomore on the Blue Devils' women's volleyball team and the only Black starter, released a statement on social media detailing the ugly incident that night, saying she was "targeted and racially heckled" through the entire match, including eventual threats that caused her and her teammates to feel unsafe.

Richardson said volleyball officials and those from the hosts at BYU 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." As a result, the Blue Devils "had to struggle just to get through the rest of the game," while adding that she never considered halting, suspending or protesting the match despite the incident.

"Although the heckling eventually took a mental toll on me, I refused to allow it to stop me from doing what I love to do and what I came to BYU to do; which was to play volleyball," Richardson said. "I refused to allow those racist bigots to feel any degree of satisfaction from thinking that their comments had 'gotten to me.' So I pushed through and finished the game.

"Therefore, on behalf of my African American teammates and I, we do not want to receive pity or to be looked at as helpless. We do not feel as though we are victims of some tragic, unavoidable event. We are proud to be young African American women; we are proud to be Duke student athletes, and we are proud to stand up against racism."

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe took accountability for the incident, calling it unacceptable and intolerable, and urged BYU fans to be better about reporting any incident or actions that crossed the line of personal hurt or harm, even in the realm of athletics.

"I ask that everyone at all of our games that represent BYU, that you will have the courage to take a stand and be able to take care of each other," said Holmoe, addressing a crowd of 3,678 fans before Saturday night's match against Washington State, "and more importantly the guests, our guests who we invite to come and play here so that we can be disciples of Christ and show it in every way."

Holmoe said he met with Richardson and Duke coach Jolene Nagel after the reporting of the incident, and that "if you would have met her, you would have loved her — but you don't know her, and so you don't feel that way," referring to Richardson.

"As children of God, we are responsible. It's our mission to love one another and to treat everybody with respect, and that didn't happen last night," Holmoe added. "We fell very short. We didn't live up to our best."

BYU coach Heather Olmstead also met with Richardson and members of the Duke volleyball delegation, she said in a statement Sunday afternoon.

"Racism in any form has no place at BYU, or anywhere else," Olmstead said. "I apologize for what the Duke student-athletes experienced during our match on Friday. We must do better. I have been able to have productive conversations with the student-athlete who was impacted the most Friday night, Rachel Richardson, the Duke volleyball team captain and the Duke volleyball head coach. They have helped me understand areas where we can do better.

"I thank them for taking the time to speak with me. I want the very best for them and the entire Duke team."

Holmoe added a vote of confidence in Olmstead as the athletic department "continues to move forward."

"I am glad she was able to speak with Rachel," he tweeted Sunday afternoon. "I want to clarify that I was the one who made the decision to represent BYU at the meeting with Rachel Saturday morning.

"The personal attacks and death threats Heather has received are completely unacceptable and exacerbate what is already a difficult situation. Heather is a remarkable woman, great person and we are so glad to have her at BYU."

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox likewise condemned the incident and use of a racial slur. In a tweet, Cox said he was "disgusted that this behavior is happening" and was "deeply saddened" that others didn't stop it from happening.

Evan McMullin, a BYU alumnus and former presidential candidate who is currently challenging Utah Sen. Mike Lee for a seat in the U.S. Senate, also condemned the use of racial slurs on his alma mater's campus.

"As a BYU alum, season ticket holder and human, I'm disgusted by the fan who yelled racist slurs at Duke volleyball player (Rachel Richardson), and that this behavior wasn't stopped immediately," McMullin tweeted. "Racism doesn't reflect our values and must have no place among us."

BYU athletic department officials said late Saturday that the early reporting of the racial slur was unable to target the perpetrator, and identification didn't come until after the contest, when the fan was banned from all athletic venues on campus. Officials also accepted responsibility for their actions, and committed to making changes to help prevent it from happening again.

"We understand that the Duke players' experience is what matters here," the university said in a statement. "They felt unsafe and hurt, and we were unable to address that during the game in a manner that was sufficient. For that, we truly do apologize, and we are examining our processes and practices to do everything in our power to make sure something like this doesn't happen again.

"We commit to increased communication with our event staff to handle these types of situations better and having further discussion with our student section, and educating them on our fan code of conduct."

Richardson, for her part, did not cast any blame at BYU athletes or her fellow competitors on the team, and praised Holmoe's eventual response to the incident.

"I do not believe this is in anyway a reflection of what the BYU athletes stand for," she said. "The girls on the team played a great game and showed nothing but respect and good sportsmanship on and off the court. Once notified, the BYU athletic director, Tom Holmoe, was quick to act in a very respectful and genuine manner. He is at the forefront of ensuring that the BYU athletic staff and players undergo education and training to better handle and prevent the racist, ignorant and asinine behaviors that were exhibited by their fans during the match."

Richardson said her point wasn't to call out the reaction of either BYU or officials from Duke University, "but rather to call them up." She urged everyone to call out blatant acts of racism in their own communities.

"This is not the first time this has happened in college athletics and sadly it likely will not be the last time," she added. "However, each time it happens, we as student-athletes, coaches, fans and administrators have a chance to educate those who act in hateful ways.

"This is an opportunity to dig deep into closed cultures which tolerate amoral racist acts, such as those exhibited Friday night, and change them for the better. It is not enough to indicate that you are not racist, instead you must demonstrate that you are anti-racist."

After wrapping up the four-team invitational against Rider at an undisclosed alternate site away from campus, Duke returned to Durham, North Carolina, where the Blue Devils will host East Tennessee State, Northeastern and East Carolina in this weekend's Duke Invitational.

No. 10 BYU stays home to host the Nike Invitational, beginning Thursday against Utah State and also including matches against Cincinnati and Pitt.

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