BYU: We found no evidence to corroborate allegations that racial slurs were directed at a Duke volleyball player

Source: Hot Air

Last week there was a dramatic story circulating about an incident that allegedly happened during a women’s volleyball match between the Duke team and the Brigham Young University team. The match was held in Utah at a BYU building that was absolutely packed with thousands of students, parents and fans. The game was also being broadcast on ESPN.

According to Rachel Richardson, who is the only black starting player on the Duke team, every time she went to serve the ball she could hear someone in the stands behind her shouting the N-word. She told her father who told her aunt, Lesa Pamplin, who is a progressive candidate for office in Texas. Pamplin, who was not at the match, wrote about the incident on her Twitter account and from there is circulated quickly thanks to an assist from LeBron James who retweeted it. Eventually, every major news outlet including the NY Times covered the story. Here’s the opening portion of how the Times initially reported it:

A Duke University women’s volleyball player who is Black was called a racial slur during a game Friday night in Utah, prompting Brigham Young University to ban a fan from sporting events and Duke University to change the venue of a tournament game on Saturday.

Marvin Richardson, the father of the Duke volleyball player, said in an interview late Saturday that a slur was repeatedly yelled from the stands as his daughter was serving, making her fear “the raucous crowd” could grow violent.

Mr. Richardson said his daughter cried to him over the phone on Friday night about the episode.

“Here we are,” Mr. Richardson, who said he grew up in Fort Worth when it was still desegregating, said in the interview. “It’s 2022, and we’re dealing with 1960s issues.”

After the episode occurred, a police officer was placed on Duke’s bench.

But as I pointed out last week, there were a whole bunch of problems that developed with this narrative. While Richardson was making the rounds doing TV hits with various networks about her experience, a BYU student newspaper investigated the story and spoke to a number of students who were in the stands that day. None of them heard any slur being used. A police officer who was stationed near the BYU fans during the game because of the report about slurs said in his report that he never heard anyone shout the N-word at the same time when Richardson said the slurs were the most insistent. And it turned out that none of the other Duke players who were standing with Richardson on the court heard it either.

One student was banned after the game which made it seem that someone had identified the culprit. But it turned out no one had specifically identified that person as yelling a slur and a review of videotape showed he’d been perusing his phone during one of the moments Richardson claimed the slurs were being directed at her.

BYU Police Lt. George Besendorfer said Tuesday that based on an initial review of surveillance footage of the crowd, the individual who was banned wasn’t shouting anything while the Duke player was serving.

“When we watched the video, we did not observe that behavior from him,” he said…

“Various BYU Athletics employees have been reviewing video from BYUtv and other cameras in the facility that the volleyball team has access to for film review. This has been ongoing since right after the match on Friday night,” BYU Associate Athletic Director Jon McBride said in a statement. “The person who was banned was the person identified by Duke as using racial slurs. However, we have been unable to find any evidence of that person using slurs in the match.”

BYU apologized profusely at the time but also said it was continuing to investigate. Today it released a statement about the investigation saying it had found no evidence of any kind to back up Richardson’s story. [Emphasis added]

As part of our commitment to take any claims of racism seriously, BYU has completed its investigation into the allegation that racial heckling and slurs took place at the Duke vs. BYU women’s volleyball match on August 26. We reviewed all available video and audio recordings, including security footage and raw footage from all camera angles taken by BYUtv of the match, with broadcasting audio removed (to ensure that the noise from the stands could be heard more clearly). We also reached out to more than 50 individuals who attended the event: Duke athletic department personnel and student-athletes, BYU athletic department personnel and student-athletes, event security and management and fans who were in the arena that evening, including many of the fans in the on-court student section.

From our extensive review, we have not found any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event. As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe. That is the reason for our immediate response and our thorough investigation.

As a result of our investigation, we have lifted the ban on the fan who was identified as having uttered racial slurs during the match. We have not found any evidence that that individual engaged in such an activity. BYU sincerely apologizes to that fan for any hardship the ban has caused.

Our fight is against racism, not against any individual or any institution. Each person impacted has strong feelings and experiences, which we honor, and we encourage others to show similar civility and respect. We remain committed to rooting out racism wherever it is found. We hope we can all join together in that important fight.

There will be some who assume we are being selective in our review. To the contrary, we have tried to be as thorough as possible in our investigation, and we renew our invitation for anyone with evidence contrary to our findings to come forward and share it.

Despite being unable to find supporting evidence of racial slurs in the many recordings and interviews, we hope that all those involved will understand our sincere efforts to ensure that all student-athletes competing at BYU feel safe. As stated by Athletics Director Tom Holmoe, BYU and BYU Athletics are committed to zero-tolerance of racism, and we strive to provide a positive experience for everyone who attends our athletic events, including student-athletes, coaches and fans, where they are valued and respected.

I think the core of the message here is the line “We remain committed to rooting out racism wherever it is found.” In other words, it wasn’t found in this case. Will Duke follow up with an apology to the fan they falsely identified as being a loudmouth racist?

This is basically a replay of the Covington Catholic story. One guy gets smeared by the media as a racist but the video proves the allegations against him don’t hold up and everyone has to walk back their initial takes on the story. Maybe this guy should hire an attorney.

A BYU alum named André Hutchens did an exhaustive thread on this story a week ago which really summarizes most of the problems with the initial claim. I won’t include all of it here because it’s long but here’s a portion of it.

Several people were sent into the stands to listen for the slurs and identify the culprit. None of them heard it.

I can imagine someone arguing that maybe the ears of some people (i.e. white people) aren’t as attuned to this particular slur as Richardson’s would be. And honestly I think that’s a fair point if you’re just talking about people who weren’t listening specifically for the N-word. But the police officer, the ushers and the Duke athletic director were listening specifically for that word and still didn’t hear it.

Notice the upside down “smarty” sign in the photo above. Now compare that to the pic below and you’ll understand where these black BYU men’s basketball players were sitting during the game. Does anyone think these guys would have taken kindly to hearing some idiot shout the N-word at a black volleyball player 15 feet away. I really, really doubt that.

Finally, the whole game was broadcast so there’s video of everything that happened. Hutchens pulled clips from every single time Richardson was serving (which is when she claimed the harassment happened). Not only do I not hear anyone shouting anything racist, I don’t see her or anyone around her reacting as if someone behind them is shouting the N-word.

Despite all of this, Hutchens does not conclude that Richardson is lying. He thinks the most probably explanation is that she really thought she heard something but was mistaken. He even suggested a couple of specific possibilities (2nd tweet below).

I wasn’t at the game so I can’t say for certain who is right. Maybe video proof will turn up tomorrow. But at least so far there is a complete lack of any support for Richardson’s story, including from people like her teammates and the Duke athletic director who would be presumably be vouching for her loudly if they could do so honestly.

At this point I don’t see Richardson or her family changing their story. Even if she has some internal doubts, it has simply gotten way too big to walk it back. But you would hope that Duke would show a little more objectivity under the circumstances. And you would also hope that newspapers like the NY Times would do a little more before putting out a story that treats the claims of one individual as definitive proof.