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BYU bans fan for alleged racial slurs, threats against Duke volleyball player

By Darnell Dickson - | Aug 27, 2022

Courtesy BYU Photo

A BYU women's volleyball record crowd of 5,507 filled the Smith Fieldhouse for a match against Duke University on Friday, August 26, 2022.

It was a glorious night in the Smith Fieldhouse that turned ugly.

A BYU women’s volleyball record 5,507 fans filled the stands for the Cougars’ 3-1 victory against Duke in the doTerra Classic on Friday.

One fan, who is not a BYU student, allegedly used racial slurs and threats against Blue Devils senior Rachel Richardson during the match. BYU addressed the issue on Saturday, indicating that the fan had been banned from all athletic venues.

A BYU statement indicated that when the behavior was initially reported by Duke the event management and security staffs were unable to identify the individual responsible. After the match, with the aid of the Duke players and coaches, a fan was identified and banned. BYU administrators spent hours reviewing video of the event as well.

Lesa Pamplin, an attorney in Texas, posted on social media that Richardson is her goddaughter, the only Black starter on Duke’s volleyball team. Pamplin attested that Richardson was called the “N” word … “every time she served. 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 further commented, “Not one freaking adult did anything to protect her. I’m looking at you @BYU. You allowed this racist behavior to continue without intervening. Apologizing to her parents after the fact is not enough. She will soon be sharing her story.”

Richardson released a statement Sunday on social media, writing that she and her African American teammates were targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match.

“The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe,” Richardson wrote. “Both the officials and BYU coaching staff 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, my teammates and I had to struggle just to get through the game, instead of just being able to focus on our playing so that we could compete at the highest level possible. They also failed to adequately address the situation immediately following the game when it was brought to their attention again. No athlete, regardless of their race should ever be subject to such hostile conditions.

“That said, I do not believe this is in any way a reflection of what the BYU athletes stand for. The girls on the team played a great game and showed nothing but respect and good sportsmanship on and off the court.”

Richardson went on to praise BYU Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe for his “respectful and genuine manner” in dealing with the issue.

BYU released the following statement on Saturday afternoon: “All of God’s children deserve love and respect. BYU Athletics is completely committed to leading out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice of any kind and rooting out racism. When a student-athlete or a fan comes to a BYU sporting event, we expect that they will be treated with love and respect and feel safe on our campus. It is for this reason BYU has banned a fan who was identified by Duke during last night’s volleyball match from all BYU athletic venues. Although this fan was sitting in BYU’s student section, this person is not a BYU student.

“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. 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. We want BYU athletic events to provide a safe environment for all, and there is no place for behaviors like this in our venues.”

BYU women’s volleyball coach Heather Olmstead was not available for comment after Friday or Saturday’s match. A school official indicated Olmstead was on the phone with Duke coach Jolene Nagel addressing the issue long after Friday’s match concluded.

On Sunday, Olmstead released her own statement: “Racism in any form has no place at BYU, or anywhere else. 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 to me. I want the very best for them and the entire Duke team.”

The Blue Devils were scheduled to play Rider at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Fieldhouse to conclude their stay at the tournament but a news release from the school indicated the match would be held at an alternate location in Provo. The Rider players wrote Richardson’s No. 3 on their arms in support and posted a photo on social media.

“First and foremost, our priority is the well-being of Duke student-athletes,” said Duke Vice President and Director of Athletics Nina King. “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. We are appreciative of the support from BYU’s athletic administration as we navigate this troubling situation. I have been in touch with the student-athletes who have been deeply impacted, will continue to support them in every way possible and look forward to connecting further upon their return from Provo.”

Before the start of the BYU-Washington State match Saturday night, Holmoe addressed the Smith Fieldhouse crowd, calling the for better behavior.

“There were egregious and hurtful slurs directed at members of the Duke volleyball team,” he said. “I’m the athletic director and accountable for everything that happens at athletic events. This morning I visited with the young athlete on Duke’s team and her coach. If you would have met her, you would have loved her.

“As children of God, we are responsible and it is our mission to love one another and treat everybody with respect. That didn’t happen. We fell very short. We have to have the courage to take a stand and be able to be able to take care of each other and more importantly our guests so that we can be disciples of Christ and show it in every way. I love the ROC and the fans that are incredibly supportive of our teams. Cheer them on as loud as you can but do not cross the line where you would hurt or harm anyone in any way.”

Holmoe was quoted in USA Today: “My concern is for Rachel and her well-being, and the school has investigated up to this point. The bottom line is that we are going to have to do more. And we are going to have to be vigilant and continue to say that this is not to be tolerated in any way.”

The south BYU student section on the floor, which is where the alleged abuse took place, was empty Saturday night except for the Cougar cheer squad during portions of the match.

No. 10 BYU defeated Washington State in a sweep (25-18, 25-21, 25-15) to improve its record to 3-0. Setter Whitney Bower was named the tournament’s MVP and was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Heather Gneiting and Erin Livingston, along with Rider’s Carley McAleavey, Duke’s Gracie Johnson and Washington State’s Pia Timmer and Magda Jehlarova.


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