A Duke University women’s volleyball player was allegedly harassed by a fan with a racial slur while playing in a game against Brigham Young University in Utah on Friday, according to BYU.
The fan, who was not a student, was sitting in the BYU student section, and was identified by Duke during the game, according to BYU. The fan has since been banned from all BYU athletic venues.
“To say we are extremely disheartened in the actions of a small number of fans in last night’s volleyball game in the Smith Fieldhouse between BYU and Duke is not strong enough language,” BYU said in a statement. “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 holds 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.”
Rachel Richardson, who is Black, is a sophomore at Duke and was the target of the alleged racial slurs. Richardson heard the slur “every time she served,” according to former Texas county prosecutor Lesa Pamplin, who is running for county judge and said Richardson is her goddaughter in a tweet posted on Saturday.
“She 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,” Pamplin tweeted. “Not one freaking adult did anything to protect her.”
In a statement posted on Twitter Sunday, Richardson said officials and BYU coaching staff were aware of what was happening during the game but she said they failed to stop the fan and end the behavior.
“This is not the first time this has happened in college athletics and sadly it likely will not be the last time,” Richardson said.
But she said that after game, Tom Holmoe, athletic director for BYU, was “quick to act in a very respectful and genuine matter,” and said that he is taking steps to better educate his staff and student-athletes on ways to handle inappropriate behavior from fans in the future.
“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,” Richardson said Sunday. “It is not enough to indicate that you are not racist, instead you must demonstrate that you are anti-racist.”
Holmoe said he met with Richardson and her coach to discuss what had happened, and while addressing fans at a match Saturday night said, “As children of God, we are responsible. It’s our mission to love one another and treat everybody with respect. And that didn’t happen. We fell very short. We didn’t live up to our best.”
Duke University Vice President & Director of Athletics Nina King said Friday’s alleged incident is unacceptable and all players should be able to compete in a safe environment.
“Duke student-athletes should always have the opportunity to compete in an inclusive, anti-racist environment which promotes equality and fair play,” King said in a statement on Saturday.
Duke Athletics has been in contact with its student-athletes at the tournament, said King, and will “continue to support them in every way possible and look forward to connecting further upon their return from Provo.”
BYU and Duke were competing in the doTERRA Classic on Friday and Saturday, which was a four-team round robin tournament in Provo that also included Rider and Washington State University.
Duke’s match against Rider on Saturday was moved to a different location to “afford both teams the safest atmosphere for competition,” King said. Attendance was limited to staff and family, BYU Volleyball said on Twitter.
“On behalf of my African American teammates and I, we do not want to receive pity or to be looked at as helpless,” Richardson said. “We do not feel as though we are victims of some tragic 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.”