Duke Volleyball Player Targeted With Racial Slurs by BYU Fan

Rachel Richardson said she, along with her other Black teammates, were heckled with racial slurs by a BYU fan.

Published August 31, 2022

Edited by Reece Johnson
Duke Volleyball Player Targeted With Racial Slurs by BYU Fan
College Sports
Photo by Joshua Duplechian / NCAA Photos / Getty Images

  • The verbal attacks continued throughout the game despite BYU's knowledge of the comments, according to Richardson.
  • Both BYU and Duke University responded to the incident, condemning racism and supporting the student-athletes who were impacted.
  • Following the match, the BYU fan was banned from all BYU athletic venues.
  • Responding to the incident, the Black Menaces proposed mandatory anti-racism training for BYU students, faculty, and staff.

For their first overnight tournament of the fall season, the Duke University Volleyball team traveled to Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, where they faced off against the school on Friday evening.

During the night's matchup, sophomore outside hitter, Rachel Richardson, said that she, along with her other African American teammates, were taunted from the starting whistle with racial slurs and threats by a person sitting in the BYU student section.

This behavior, according to Richardson, continued throughout the entire game, despite BYU's knowledge of what was happening off the court.

"Both the officials and the BYU coaching staff were made aware of the incident during the game, but failed to take necessary steps to stop the unacceptable behavior and create a safe environment," Richardson shared in a personal statement on social media Sunday.

After Duke players informed referees about the slurs, BYU officials stationed a police officer near the Duke bench for the remainder of the match.

However, even with the officer, the taunting did not stop.

"My teammates and I had to struggle, just to get through the rest of the game, instead of just being able to focus on our playing so that we could compete at the highest level possible," she said.

According to Lesa Pamplin, a Texas-based attorney and Richardson's godmother — who has since made her campaign Twitter account private — her goddaughter was called a slur every single time she served the ball.

The taunts escalated into threats, according to Pamplin.

"She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus," Pamplin tweeted on Saturday.

Following the game, Duke players were able to identify the offender out of the crowd of 5,500 spectators. The fan was immediately banned from all BYU athletic venues and events with no specific timeline established.

In a series of statements over the weekend, BYU Athletics and Heather Olmstead, the BYU head volleyball coach, condemned the bigotry that took place on Friday night and apologized to Richardson and the entire Duke team.

The Duke United Black Athletes was among several groups stating that Duke and BYU officials should have acted much quicker in protecting the student-athletes.

In an Instagram statement, the group wrote, "While we understand universities cannot control fans, we are disappointed in the lack of immediate action from both institutions."

Prior to BYU's game on Saturday, the athletic director, Tom Holmoe, addressed the crowd at the Smith Fieldhouse.

"At last nights' game, there were some egregious and hurtful slurs that were directed at the Duke University women's volleyball team… As children of God, we are responsible, it is our mission, to love one another and treat everybody with respect. That did not happen, we fell very short," he said.

"Cheer them [our teams] on as loud as you can, but do not cross the line where you would hurt or harm anyone in any way," he directed, finger pointed toward the crowd.

That same day, Duke took on Rider at an alternate location, opting for a safer environment for their players.

Richardson led the team with three aces.

The Black Menaces Address the Incident

According to a 2021 report by the BYU Committee on Race, Equity, and Belonging, many BIPOC students on campus feel "unsafe and isolated at BYU", which stems from long-standing discrimination, ranging from a severe lack of diverse mentors on campus to "racially stereotypical treatment in university-sponsored classroom instruction."

BYU ranks 328 out of 360 national universities for student diversity, with a student diversity index of 0.27.

In response, a group of students at BYU, called the Black Menaces, made a platform on TikTok earlier this year for Black students to share their experiences on the predominantly white campus and to address incidents of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Although the university confirmed that the person responsible for the threats was not a BYU student, the Black Menaces released a video condemning the BYU community for not taking a stand.

@blackmenaces #greenscreen this is disgusting. #fyp #byu #provo #volleyball #duke #orem #utah #racism #blackmenaces ♬ original sound - the black menaces

"At what point will white people at BYU and across our country fully start sticking up for those who aren't like them? At what point will they call out racism when nobody is there to do it for them?" asked one of the creators, Sebastian Stewart-Johnson.

Stewart-Johnson called on BYU to work with the Black Menaces to take proper action and participate in mandatory anti-racism training for faculty, staff, administration, and students to "root out internal racism and learn to respond correctly in these incidents."

#MoreThanAVolleyballPlayer

Richardson is from Ellicott City, Maryland. She was an ACC Academic Honor Roll recipient as a first-year student. She is a starter as a sophomore. She wears number three on the court.

Richardson wanted her supporters to know that "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."

"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," she continued in her statement.

"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," she said.

A statement from the team shared, "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."