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BYU fan directs racial slur at Duke volleyball player, Duke Athletics releases statement

Duke's Saturday match against Rider will be played at an alternate location

In a statement Saturday afternoon, Duke athletic director Nina King addressed a racist incident that occurred in the Blue Devils' Friday match against Brigham Young University at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah. Duke's Saturday match at the doTERRA Classic against Rider will be played at an alternate location at 6 p.m., per the release, and only open to staff and family.

"First and foremost, our priority is the well-being of Duke student-athletes," King said. "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."

Friday's events came to light after Lesa Pamplin of Fort Worth, Texas, posted on Twitter Saturday detailing the use of a racial slur directed at her goddaughter, Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, who Pamplin said was Duke's only Black starter. Pamplin wrote in the tweet that a police officer was placed by Duke's bench.

In a statement issued Saturday afternoon via Twitter, BYU banned a non-student fan who was sitting in the school's student section for their actions at Friday night's game. The duration or details of the ban were not specified.

"All of God’s children deserve love and respect," BYU's statement reads. "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."

Pamplin provided The Chronicle with a statement Saturday night, emphasizing the importance of the incident on a national stage and calling on coaches to "stand up for [our children] and keep them safe."

"Many adults failed my goddaughter," Pamplin wrote.

Pamplin's full statement read: "For far too long, individuals have been subjected to racist slurs, taunts, and threats like the unfortunate incident that happened to my goddaughter, Rachel Richardson, at BYU. It is unfortunate that this incident has only received attention after I tweeted about it. Every American should be enraged that a young lady was subjected to hateful, demeaning language, and we should be even more outraged that it took a tweet from me in Tarrant County, Texas to bring this incident to light.

"We must, as a country, do better. We must demand that the coaches to whom we entrust our children stand up for them and keep them safe. Many adults failed my goddaughter. It is our duty – each of us – to use our voices in the spaces we occupy to protect and advocate for each other.

"On behalf of my goddaughter, Rachel, and her parents, thank you for the outpouring of support."

USA Today Sports reported Saturday having spoken with BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, who said that he spoke with Richardson and Duke coach Jolene Nagel in advance of the decision to relocate Duke’s match against Rider. 

Both Richardson and Nagel said they were hurt and disappointed after the incident, according to USA Today. Holmoe also told USA Today that the school is investigating the incident. Beyond “the fan that was banned and anyone else identified in making the slurs,” no further discipline is expected, USA Today reported.

"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," Holmoe told USA Today. "And we are going to have to be vigilant and continue to say that this is not to be tolerated in any way."

Marvin Richardson, Richardson's father, told the Salt Lake Tribune Saturday that his daughter was scheduled to meet earlier Saturday with both Holmoe and BYU women's volleyball head coach Heather Olmstead, but that Olmstead did not show up. Marvin Richardson emphasized that Holmoe was "very remorseful from my understanding of my daughter’s conversation with him."

"I think that is an issue," Marvin Richardson told the Tribune about Olmstead's absence. "As far as I’m concerned, the coach is the first administrator on the scene. You are the coach on the floor. For her not to be there to give an account, for what I believe to be nothing more than out of respect for the player and situation ... for whatever reason she did not appear. That in it of itself sends a message.

"She impacts that entire program. And it is that influence that allows something like that to go unchecked. That is problematic. I believe in accountability. It should exist starting from the top. If you aren’t getting it from the top then you cannot expect it throughout the rest of the organization."

Olmstead released a statement via BYU's team social media Sunday afternoon, apologizing for Friday's events. She also noted that she had "productive conversations" with Richardson and Nagel.

Holmoe tweeted Sunday night in support of Olmstead, clarifying that he "was the one who made the decision to represent BYU at the meeting with Rachel Saturday morning."

The Chronicle reached out to a Duke team spokesperson Saturday evening over email requesting information about the meeting, including whether Olmstead showed up, who directed The Chronicle to Richardson's and Duke Athletics' statements.

The Chronicle reached out to Jonathan McBride, associate athletic director for communications and media strategy at BYU, and a team spokesperson through email requesting information about the meeting, and did not receive a response. The Chronicle also called McBride, who did not respond, and was automatically directed to the voicemail box of Kenny Cox, athletics communications coordinator for BYU, who did not respond.

"Racism in any form has no place at BYU, or anywhere else," Olmstead wrote. "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 with me. I want the very best for them and the entire Duke team."

Prior to Saturday's match between BYU and Washington State, Holmoe addressed the crowd at Smith Fieldhouse, where the student section was moved to the upper deck and away from the floor. In his remarks, Holmoe confirmed that he "visited with the young athlete on Duke's team and her coach" earlier Saturday.

"At last night’s game, there was some egregious and hurtful slurs that were directed at members of the Duke University women’s volleyball team. … 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," Holmoe said. "We fell very short. We didn’t live up to our best. I ask that everyone at all of our games that represent BYU, that you will have the courage to take a stand and be able to take care of each other, and more importantly, the guests—our guests, who we invite to come and play here."

Friday's match between Duke and BYU housed 5,507 fans, a new record attendance for a women's volleyball game at Smith Fieldhouse. The tenth-ranked Cougars defeated the Blue Devils 3-1.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Milla Surjadi contributed reporting.

Editor's note: This story was updated Saturday evening to include USA Today's reporting. This story was updated again Saturday night to include Pamplin's statement. This story was updated Saturday night to include the Salt Lake Tribune's reporting. This story was updated Sunday morning to include Holmoe's remarks at Saturday's match between BYU and Washington State. This story was updated Sunday afternoon to include the Duke team spokesperson's response and Olmstead's statement. This story was updated Monday morning to include Holmoe's tweet from Sunday.


Jonathan Levitan | Sports Editor

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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