A Duke University women’s volleyball player was called racial slurs and threatened during a match against Brigham Young University in Utah on Friday, resulting in a fan being banned from sporting events, according to the student, her family and the school.
Rachel Richardson, a Black starter on Duke’s team, was called the n-word “every time she was on duty,” and was threatened by “a white male who told her to watch her go back to the team bus,” her godmother. Lesa Pamplin said on social media.
A police officer had to be benched by the Duke team as a result of the alleged harassment, Pamplin said.
The game drew a crowd of over 5,000 people at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah.
Gloria Richardson, Rachel’s mother, told NBC News that her daughter called her crying Friday night.
“To have our strong independent daughter calling and crying… it hurt. She didn’t feel safe,” she said.
She said her daughter, a a sophomore from Ellicott City, Maryland, did not initially tell her parents or coach about the heckling. After the second match, the referees had a policeman down.
“She was incredibly shy,” her mother said. “It was really scary for her, here you have over 5,500 people at this game all in Blue, she just felt singled out.”
“Except for the ‘N-word’… she got constant boos whenever she served. Her white teammates didn’t get that. Her back was against the fans… and all she hear (sic) was her name and n -word. … She didn’t turn around,” Gloria continued.
Rachel, an outside hitter, later met with the BYU Athletic Director who said the suspect had been identified, and was described as not a BYU student but a guest of someone else. She was also assured that it was one person who said the slander, according to Gloria.
BYU confirmed the incident Saturday, saying a fan, who is not a BYU student, was banned from all athletic fields.
“When a student-athlete or fan comes to a BYU sporting event, we expect them to be treated with love and respect and to feel safe on our campus. That’s why BYU banned a fan who was identified as Duke from last night’s volleyball game from everyone BYU athletic fields. Although this fan was seated in the BYU student section, this person is not a BYU student,” said the school.
The school apologized to Duke University and its student-athletes involved in the game.
“To say that we are extremely disheartened by the actions of a small number of fans in last night’s volleyball match … is not strong enough language,” the statement said. “Specifically, the use of racial slurs at any of our sporting events is absolutely unacceptable and BYU Athletics maintains a zero-tolerance approach to this behavior,” the statement said.
“We want BYU sporting events to provide a safe environment for everyone, and there is no place for such behaviors on our venues,” the statement concluded.
Richardson on Sunday addressed the incident on Twitter, calling out game officials for failing to stop the harassment. The post was shared by Duke volleyball’s social media page.
“My fellow African-American teammates and I were targeted and racially heckled throughout the match. The insults and comments escalated into threats that made us feel unsafe,” she wrote.
“Both the officials and the BYU coaching staff were aware of the incident during the game, but did not take the necessary steps to stop the unacceptable behavior and create a safe environment,” she continued. “… No athlete, regardless of their race should ever be subject to such hostile conditions.”
“It is not my or Duke Volleyball’s goal to call out BYU athletics, but rather to call them out,” Richardson wrote. “This is not the first time this has happened in college athletics and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last time. However, every time it happens, we as student-athletes, coaches, fans and administrators have an opportunity to educate those who act in hateful ways .”
Following Friday’s incident, Duke’s Saturday game scheduled at the same BYU fieldhouse was moved to another location.
“Following extremely unfortunate circumstances at Friday night’s game at BYU, we are forced to move today’s game against Rider to a different location to provide both teams with the safest atmosphere for competition,” said Duke Vice President and Director of Athletics Nina King.
She added that she has been in contact with the student-athletes “who have been deeply affected” and will “continue to support them in any way possible.”
The Rider University women’s volleyball team shared a message of support for Richardson before their Saturday game, writing her jersey number on their wrists.
At the start of Saturday’s game, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe addressed fans in attendance, condemning the “vulgar and hurtful slurs” said at the previous game.
“I want you to know that this morning I visited the young athlete on the Duke team and her coach. If you had met her, you would have loved her. But you don’t know her, and so you don’t feel that way,” he said.
“We were very short. We didn’t live up to our best,” he said.
He urged BYU fans to “have the courage to take a stand” and take care of guests invited to play there.
Speaking to Cougar fans he said, “Cheer them as loud as you can, but don’t cross the line where you would hurt or harm anybody in any way.”