The Duke women’s volleyball player who was subjected to racial slurs during a recent match at Brigham Young University, Rachel Richardson, said officials staffing the game and BYU coaches didn’t respond quickly enough to halt the racist behavior.
The incident happened Friday night on BYU’s campus, at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah, during an eventual 3-1 Cougars victory against the Blue Devils.
“The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe,” Richardson wrote in a statement posted Sunday to her Twitter account. “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 rest of 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.”
Richardson, 19, is a sophomore outside hitter from Ellicott City, Maryland, who was recognized in the 2021 ACC Academic Honor Roll.
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The accusation first surfaced Saturday through a post on Twitter from Lesa Pamplin, a Fort Worth, Texas attorney, who said Richardson is her goddaughter and the only Black starter for the Blue Devils volleyball team. Pamplin said in the post that BYU fans directed slurs at Richardson every time she served. She also said that Richardson was threatened and authorities had to sit at the Duke bench for the team’s protection.
After the game, BYU issued a statement indicating that it had banned the fan who said the racial slurs. BYU also said the fan was not a student although they sat in the student section. The school released a statement Saturday afternoon apologizing to Duke and its student athletes.
Then, on Saturday, BYU athletic director Thomas Holmoe addressed fans in attendance at BYU’s women’s volleyball game against Washington State and decried the “egregious and hurtful slurs,” though he stopped short of calling the actions racist.
Duke issued a statement of its own on Sunday, saying its primary concern was the safety and well-being of the players.
“We stand against any form of racism, bigotry or hatred,” the Blue Devils said in their statement. “As a program we have worked extensively to create an inclusive and safe environment where our student-athletes feel heard and supported but are not naive to the fact that there is always work to be done.”
In her statement, Richardson said she didn’t feel the actions of the fan were representative of the BYU athletic department and said the Cougars women’s volleyball team “played a great game and showed nothing but respect and good sportsmanship on and off the court.”
Still, Richardson called for the incident to be a teaching moment for not only the BYU community, but everyone involved in college athletics.
“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. “It is not enough to indicate that you are not racist, instead you must demonstrate that you are anti-racist.”
Richardson also addressed those who suggested that Duke and its players could have done more while the incident was taking place, such as walking off in protest.
“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.”
Contributing: Scooby Axson
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