The investigation is over. A conclusion has been reached. After three long weeks of scandal and media sensationalism, it seems BYU fans did not yell racial slurs at black volleyball players from Duke.
In front of 5,500 people at Brigham Young University’s Smith Fieldhouse, Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson was gearing up to serve in front of the boisterous BYU student section when she believes she heard a racial slur hurled in her direction. Richardson is black. And it was that word. Accusations flew on the volleyball court, prompting a comprehensive investigation that would rival Eliot Ness in his zeal to take down Al Capone. Well, actually, the university athletic department reviewed audio and video recordings and declared fans were polite if not rallying the cry for their Cougars to win the game. But all in good-natured rivalry.
She Said, They Said …
Richardson pointed her finger toward the Roar of Cougars (ROC) section of the audience, and by the end of the fourth set, she identified the man serving up the slurs. Said man was escorted off campus by university police and banned from further access to the event – and all was well again.
Yeah, not so fast. Richardson was shaken up by the entire incident and reported additional information: “It was almost as if the atmosphere of the student section had changed,” she explained. “Even my Black teammates on the bench who don’t play, they were being called out and pointed at. It was really confusing as to why.”
Campus police settled in around the ROC, hoping to catch more culprits in the act. But instead, every officer claimed not to have heard a racist word throughout the rest of play.
The alleged incident was contained inside Smith Fieldhouse until Richardson’s godmother, Lesa Pamplin, decided to publicize the accusation of racial slurs on Twitter, beginning with the story of how her godchild “was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back.” Pamplin followed up by lobbing this statement across the racial divide: “[Rachel] was called a n— every time she served.” An inflammatory account, it also highlighted the reality of the situation: Richardson served eight times, and each time was recorded for all the world to review. In full disclosure, the godmother’s veracity was immediately called into question on her social media (now made private) in a bid to discredit her. Who knew Pamplin was campaigning as a Tarrant County, TX, criminal court judge candidate? To some, that was the motive for stoking a fictional racist controversy.
Richardson reported her story to ESPN, saying, “Very distinctly I heard a very strong and negative racial slur.” And once home from the match, she began spiking accusations against BYU for doing nothing about the incident.
Racial Slurs – Now Everyone Is Involved
BYU decided to play ball with Duke after lengthy discussions with the accusing student and athletic directors. As a result, ROC has been relegated to the rafters to keep the student fans away from opposing teams. Now, most visiting coaches and players will enjoy a security escort while entering the venue – necessary or not. Does that say, “we are not racist?” Or is it pandering in hopes of moving forward from this incident?
It took three long weeks – under scrutiny by the sensationalist media – to finish the investigation. Still, after looking at every possible film clip and interviewing students and players of both teams, investigators declared there was no evidence of wrongdoing. And they were thorough: According to a statement by BYU, officials interviewed well over 50 people attending the event, including “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.” It all boiled down to this: There was no evidence that a single slur was uttered.
Can We All Just Get Along?
Could Richardson have misunderstood comments during the heat of battle? Fans in the ROC section called players out by first name as a distractive taunt, but no one admits to using hate speech. And although Duke University and Richardson’s teammates supported her, they also remained true to themselves. Duke freshman Christina Barrow, one of four black players on the team, spoke with her local paper, The News & Observer in North Carolina, just last week and explained that she did not hear racial slurs of any kind in the arena. She added that Richardson had relayed the incident to the entire team later, saying, “at first, when she [Richardson] first heard it, she was kind of confused like that, ‘Did I just hear that?’” Whatever the athlete did or didn’t think she heard – and regardless of what was actually said – BYU fans stand exonerated.