Brigham Young University said its investigation found no evidence to back up the claim that fans yelled racial slurs at players last month during a women’s volleyball game, disputing an allegation that landed the prominent Utah college at the center of a national uproar.
Duke player Rachel Richardson, who is Black, said she heard racial epithets as she served in front of the student cheering section during the Aug. 26 game at Smith Fieldhouse, but BYU said Friday that interviews with more than 50 attendees and reviews of audio and video footage failed to turn up any such behavior.
“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,” said the BYU statement. “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.”
The university also said that it had lifted the ban on a spectator who was accused of using racial slurs.
“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,” said the statement.
The findings of the university, which is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, failed to win over Duke University vice president and athletic director Nina King, who issued a statement afterward with the hashtag “#HateWontLiveHere.”
“The 18 members of the Duke University volleyball team are exceptionally strong women who represent themselves, their families and Duke University with the utmost integrity,” she said. “We unequivocally stand with and champion them, especially when their character is called into question. Duke Athletics believes in respect, equality and inclusiveness, and we do not tolerate hate and bias.”
In an Aug. 28 tweet, Richardson said that she and her teammates were “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match,” and that the “slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe.”
After BYU officials were alerted, a police officer was assigned to the Duke bench for the rest of the game. The university followed up by issuing an apology to the players, closing off the student section, and condemning the alleged slurs, saying there was “no place for behaviors like this in our venues.”
The incident sparked national outrage and media coverage. Former NAACP President Cornell William Brooks blasted BYU in a CNN interview for “moral incompetence,” while New York Times ran an Aug. 27 article headlined, “Racial Slur During College Volleyball Game Leads to Fan Suspension.”
Lesa Pamplin, a candidate for Texas circuit court judge and Richardson‘s godmother, fueled the uproar with a tweet saying that Richardson was called the n-word “every time she served” and “threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus.” Ms. Pamplin did not attend the game.
University of South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley canceled an upcoming series with BYU, saying that “my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff.”
Meanwhile, BYU independent student newspaper Cougar Chronicle pushed back, saying in an Aug. 30 article that it was “unable to find a source in the student section that can corroborate Richardson‘s claim of racial slurs being yelled at her” and quoting several students who said they heard no such heckling.
The newspaper also posted screenshots of two dozen racially charged tweets from Ms. Pamplin’s account such as “Why does @cnn consistently interview these dumb awhite women?” and “You poor white motherers can’t take it.”
BYU: We have reviewed all available recordings and interviewed over 50 witnesses. We found no corroborating evidence.
— Will Cain (@willcain) September 9, 2022
BYU acknowledged that its conclusions would be viewed by some with skepticism.
“There will be some who assume we are being selective in our review,” said the statement. “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,” the university said.
Correction: An earlier version had an incorrect job title for Dawn Staley. Ms. Staley is the University of South Carolina’s women’s basketball head coach.