A BYU fan repeatedly called a Duke volleyball player a racial slur during a match in Utah, family says

The BYU volleyball coach did not show up to meet with the player the next day, the Duke player’s father says.

(BYU Athletics) The Cougars’ run in the NCAA volleyball tournament has come to an end after suffering a loss to Purdue on Thursday morning.

Duke women’s volleyball player Rachel Richardson was repeatedly called a racial slur by a fan at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse on Friday night, her family says.

Lesa Pamplin, Richardson’s godmother, said every time Richardson served the ball during the match between Duke and BYU, a fan in the BYU student section shouted the racial slur. At one point in the match, Pamplin said, Richardson was also “threatened by a white male.”

“My Goddaughter is the only Black starter for the Dukes volleyball team,” Pamplin wrote on Twitter. “While playing yesterday, she was called anβ€” every time she served. She was threatened by a white male who told her to watch her back going to the team bus. A police officer had to be put by their bench.”

Richardson’s father, Marvin Richardson, said BYU did not kick the fan out of the event, allowing the behavior to continue throughout the match. When Duke players complained to referees about the behavior, a police officer was placed on the bench. Both coaching staffs were made aware of the situation, Richardson said, but the match was not stopped.

“Why wasn’t the fan removed? After the notification was made to officials and the coaching staff was made aware, why wasn’t something done then?” Marvin Richardson said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “That would be my question. I’ve attended university basketball games at Duke, and when something got out of hand, Coach K picked up the mic and said, ‘Hey knock it off.’ Why didn’t that happen here?”

“I don’t know why you would ask a police officer to stand on the floor unless there is a fear that something is going on that shouldn’t be happening,” he continued. “I believe that was the case.”

BYU said the fan has been banned from university venues, but did not specify how long. The fan, BYU says, was not a student even though they were sitting in the student section.

“When last night’s behavior was initially reported by Duke, there was no individual pointed out. Despite BYU security and event management’s efforts, they were not able to identify a perpetrator of racial slurs,” BYU said in a statement. “It wasn’t until after the game that an individual was identified by Duke who they believed were uttering the slurs and exhibiting problematic behaviors. That is the individual who has been banned. We understand that the Duke players’ experience is what matters here. They felt unsafe and hurt, and we were unable to address that during the game in a manner that was sufficient.”

Marvin Richardson said he briefly talked to a BYU official as the Duke team got on the team bus. On Saturday morning, Richardson said his daughter met with BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe. BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead was supposed to be at the meeting, Marvin Richardson said, but she did not show up to the meeting.

“The coach, for whatever reason, did not appear,” the father said. “I think that is an issue. As far as I’m concerned, the coach is the first administrator on the scene. You are the coach on the floor. For her not to be there to give an account, for what I believe to be nothing more than out of respect for the player and situation … for whatever reason she did not appear. That in itself sends a message.

“She affects that entire program. And it is that influence that allows something like that to go unchecked. That is problematic. I believe in accountability. It should exist starting from the top. If you aren’t getting it from the top then you cannot expect it throughout the rest of the organization.”

Duke’s next game in Provo has been moved to an alternate site, off BYU’s campus.

“First and foremost, our priority is the well-being of Duke student-athletes,” Duke athletic director Nina King said in a statement. “They should always have the opportunity to compete in an inclusive, anti-racist environment which promotes equality and fair play. Following extremely unfortunate circumstances at Friday night’s match at BYU, we are compelled to shift today’s match against Rider to a different location to afford both teams the safest atmosphere for competition.”

Marvin Richarson said he will be monitoring actionable steps BYU takes.

“[Holmoe] was very remorseful from my understanding of my daughter’s conversation with him,” Richardson said. “We appreciate the acknowledgment [of the statements of the school]. But proof of real change comes through the results of the actions taken. So whatever actions BYU athletics take to not only address and correct this, but to ensure it doesn’t happen into the future, that is where I will judge whether or not this situation was handled appropriately.”

“To say we are extremely disheartened in the actions of a small number of fans in last night’s volleyball match in the Smith Fieldhouse between BYU and Duke is not strong enough language,” BYU said. “We will not tolerate behavior of this kind. Specifically, the use of a racial slur at any of our athletic events is absolutely unacceptable and BYU athletics maintains a zero-tolerance approach to this behavior. We wholeheartedly apologize to Duke University and especially its student-athletes competing last night for what they experienced. We wanted BYU athletic events to provide a safe environment for all, and there is no place for behaviors like this in our venues.”

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