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Exclusive: Racist Comments at BYU Volleyball Game Never Happened, Sources Suggest

By: Luke Hanson and Thomas Stevenson

An alleged racist incident occurred during a BYU Women’s Volleyball game on Friday, August 26, 2022. In a public statement given on Sunday, African-American Duke Volleyball player Rachel Richardson claimed, “[I] was targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match. The slurs and comments grew into threats… Both officials and BYU coaching staff were made aware of the incident during the game, but failed to take the necessary steps… they also failed to adequately address the situation after the game.”

Her story has spread across the nation, appearing in The New York Times, NPR, CNN, and The Hill, among others. BYU athletics appeared to agree with Richardson’s claim of racist slurs in an official statement posted on Twitter indicating that they had “banned a fan who was identified by Duke during last night’s volleyball match from all BYU athletic venues."

The Cougar Chronicle was contacted yesterday by a source inside the BYU athletic department who told a different story. They have asked for their name to be kept private to avoid discipline from BYU athletics. They will be referred to as Connor. Connor explained:

“Ms. Richardson complained of hearing a racial slur during the second set but did not point anyone out. Officials discussed briefly and stationed policemen there… there were no more complaints until after the match.”

The video of the match shows that Rachael Richardson served on the ROC (student section) side four times in the game, twice in the second set and twice in the fourth. A police officer can be seen standing by the ROC section monitoring the students as Richardson serves in the fourth set. Richardson did not mention this officer in her statement.

Richardson serves during the 4th set, an officer can be seen on the right monitoring the student section

The Cougar Chronicle has been unable to find a source in the student section that can corroborate Richardson’s claim of racial slurs being yelled at her. Vera Smith, a BYU student in the student section during the game, said she “heard absolutely nothing” that could be taken as a racial slur. Jacob Hanson, also a BYU student, shared texts with the Cougar Chronicle from two friends in two different parts of the student section that also heard nothing. They said they were not aware there had been a problem until after the game. Maddy Johnson, another BYU student who was in the ROC student section, said she did not hear any racial slur said and when she saw the individual escorted out of the arena he was in a different section. A mother of a BYU student says she personally knows five people who were in the student section during the game “One person was on the court and the others were in the first row” she told the Chronicle. None of them heard a racial slur. Two other people on the court, who wish to remain anonymous, did not hear any racial slurs.

Connor explained what happened after the game:

“When a mentally challenged fan approached a Duke player. The Duke team then suddenly recognized the handicapped man's ‘voice’ as the same one shouting slurs. They never saw or pointed out a face, just a voice. They banned this man. Not for slurs, but for interfering with visiting guests. BYU Athletics staff went through footage of the entire game and the man Duke identified was never seated in the student section. Her story doesn't add up, BYU banned an innocent man to appease the mob and make their PR mess go away. While I don't know if Ms. Richardson genuinely misheard something or intentionally made up this story, it certainly does not constitute the criticism BYU has gotten. There is zero evidence of a slur being said. Not a single witness, besides Ms. Richardson, has come forth. Not a single cell phone video or BYUtv's several camera angles caught a single thing. How unlikely when this person supposedly said a slur during ‘every single serve.'"

The Cougar Chronicle reviewed private messages between Connor and others inside the athletic department. The messages corroborate Connor's statement. In a second press release, not posted to Twitter, BYU athletics clarified the reason they banned the accused man, “Following Friday night’s volleyball game, we spent hours reviewing video of the event to try and figure out what exactly [happened]… When last night’s behavior was initially reported by Duke, there was no individual pointed out... It wasn’t until after the game that an individual was identified by Duke... That is the individual who has been banned.” Despite not finding any evidence, BYU athletics was sure to indicate they still believed Richardson. “We understand that the Duke players’ experience is what matters here. They felt unsafe and hurt, and we were unable to address that during the game in a manner that was sufficient. For that, we truly do apologize” the statement continued. The Chronicle has reached out to BYU athletics for comment but did not receive a reply by the time of this publication.

Rachel Richardson was not the only person who provided statements to the media on her experience. Marvin Richardson, Rachel’s father, claimed there was more than one person throwing slurs at his daughter. He did not attend the game.

Another relation, Rachel’s godmother Lesa Pamplin, drew attention to the story before Richardson’s statement by Tweeting “While playing yesterday [my Goddaughter] was called a n***** every time she served. She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus.” According to her Twitter account, Pamplin is an attorney and a current candidate for a Fort Worth judicial election. Pamplin even claimed credit for making the story national news in an official campaign statement on the incident. “We should be even more outraged that it took a Tweet from me, in Tarrant County Texas, to bring this incident to light” she stated. As indicated in the statement, Pamplin was also not at the game.

Pamplin has been involved with race politics for some time. Previous Tweets include “If you’re White you totally wouldn’t understand," and “Why does @CNN consistently interview these dumb a** white women," and “being married to a white woman he thinks he can talk this stupid a** nonsense. Clarence 2.0." Her Twitter was made private after these Tweets began circulating.

Most of the comments on this story now rely on the narratives given by Richardson’s father and godmother, both of whom were not at the game. No evidence of the truthfulness of the allegations has been found, yet BYU athletics has continued to treat the incident as if it happened. Connor believes “BYU is an easy target… ultimately it’s her word against ours. We’ll look bad just calling a black woman a liar."

This is an ongoing story, check back for updates

A previous version of this article stated Richarson served only in the fourth set, this has been corrected.

The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run publication for the Brigham Young University community.

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