Brigham Young University is still investigating the racist slurs that were shouted at Duke volleyball last week — in part because campus police say it doesn’t appear the man who was eventually banned was the person yelling the N-word.
BYU Police Lt. George Besendorfer said Tuesday that based on an initial review of surveillance footage from the crowd, the individual who was banned did not yell anything while the Duke player was serving.
“When we watched the video, we did not observe that behavior from him,” he said.
Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, the only Black starter on the team, said she “very clearly” heard a “very strong and negative racial slur” coming from the student section during Friday’s game while she was on duty.
“Various BYU Athletics staff reviewed video from BYUtv and other cameras in the facility, which the volleyball team has access to for film review. This continues immediately after the game on Friday night,” BYU Associate Athletic Director Jon McBride said in a statement. “The person who was banned was the person identified by Duke as using racial slurs. However, we could not find any evidence of that person using slurs in the match.”
Based on those reports, this could mean that a second person who did shout the slander has not yet been identified and has not had any action taken against them by the Provo university.
BYU is asking fans in attendance to share video and accounts of the game to help with the investigation. At the volleyball game the next day, BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe encouraged them, too, asking them to “have the courage to take a stand and take care of each other and more importantly the guests, our guests, that we have invited to come and play here. “
The police report says that on Sunday – one day later – someone left a threatening voicemail for a BYU athletic trainer. The report does not identify the coach or provide details about the anonymous message.
The report, with names redacted, was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request. It says the fan who was banned approached a Duke volleyball player after the game Friday in an interaction she reported made her uncomfortable. The police report says the fan “got in the face” of the player, who has not been identified, but does not note whether anything was said.
The player’s family said she was approached by a white man who told her to keep her back.
After that, however, Duke coaches and players identified that man as the same one who yelled the N-word from the BYU student section at Richardson, according to the police report.
Police spoke with the man, who is identified in the report as a Utah Valley University student, and he denied yelling any slurs; he said that the only thing he shouted was that the players “shouldn’t hit the ball in the net.” He acknowledged that he approached the Duke player after the game, thinking she was a friend of his who played for BYU (their uniforms are the same color, the officer noted).
An officer later reviewed footage, according to the report, and wrote: “There was nothing seen in the game film that led me to believe” that the man “was the person who made comments to the player who complained about being called the N-word.”
During the second set of the match, the officer observed, the UVU student was not present when Richardson was on duty, which is when Richardson’s family and Duke officials said the slurs were shouted. And then, when she was serving again, he was playing on his phone, the officer wrote.
But the officers said the athletic department wanted to ban the man, so the school moved forward with that process. The officer told the man not to come to future games “indefinitely,” according to the report.
In a statement after the match, BYU said only that an individual “identified by Duke” was banned.
Asked if police reviewed footage further to see who shouted the slur — because they could see the banned UVU student probably wasn’t — Besendorfer said the police department is not looking at the video anymore.
He said the task of reviewing the footage was taken over by BYU athletics and the school’s communications administration.
“There’s a bunch of videos,” Besendorfer said. “Athletics and college communication, they look at all that.”
It is unclear whether any staff there have forensic experience in investigating video footage; A university spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night on that question.
It also raises questions about what in the investigation will be public. The BYU police department is subject to public records requests. Other subjects, including athletics, at the private school operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not.
So far, Besendorfer also said, no one from the student section or elsewhere at the volleyball game last week has come forward to BYU police to report the individual responsible for the slur. He also said no one came forward to say they heard the insult shouted during the match. He pleaded with students who heard the comments to come forward; they can call police dispatch, he said, at 801-422-2222.
“We wish someone would,” he said.
According to the school’s Honor Codestudents are supposed to come in situations like this “to maintain the highest standards in their personal conduct regarding honor, integrity, morality and consideration of others.”
Due to security concerns raised by the Duke players, their next match against Rider was moved from the Provo campus the day after Richardson reported hearing the slur. BYU also played again on Saturday, with Holmoe urging any fans who witnessed it to come forward.
“As children of God, we are responsible,” he added. “It’s our mission to love each other and treat everyone with respect. And that didn’t happen. We fell very short.”
He told CNN on Monday that if a student had been involved, they would have faced expulsion.
Mismatched timeline of events
The police report also provides for the first time a more detailed timeline of what happened and BYU’s response during the match — and some of it doesn’t match what the players told them happened.
Richardson said she alerted the Duke coaching staff immediately after hearing the racial slurs in the second set. At that point, Duke coaches told both the officials and the BYU coaches, she said.
According to the police report, BYU told an officer about the matter during the third set of the match and chose to place a police officer near the Duke bench before the fourth set. No one identified the person making the slurs at the time, the officer said.
Richardson’s family said a fan in the student section repeatedly yelled the N-word at Richardson every time she served the ball. Richardson later noted in a statement the racial slurs escalated during the match and some comments “grew into threats that caused [her] feel insecure.”
The officer said in his report that he personally did not hear any slurs as he visibly stood there, listening. He said all he heard was BYU fans calling specific Duke players by their first names.
Holmoe also said BYU sent four ushers and an officer into the stands looking for the person who said the racial slur as he spoke during the interview with CNN on monday
Richardson later said that she wanted the match to continue at that point, and felt that her own coaches took the necessary steps to slow down the action.
“That was enough action in that moment and that made me feel seen and heard,” Richardson said in an ESPN interview on Tuesday.
From the fourth series, however, Richardson said the racial slurs escalated. She also said that some of her teammates were subject to taunts from the crowd.
“In the fourth set, we went back to that side, and it was almost like the atmosphere of the student section changed,” she told ESPN. “Even my Black teammates who were on the bench, who weren’t playing, they were being called, pointed at and really confused as to why. That’s when the racial slurs and heckling just got more and more intense.”
The police officer said he spoke with coaching staffs from both teams that night and learned that Duke staff members were mad that he didn’t take action during the fourth set while the taunting continued. They said the Black players were called by name, only – while none of the white players were.
“I told the athletic staff that I never heard one racial comment made,” he wrote in his report. The officer reported that he also spoke with others there who said they did not hear any booing.
BYU banned the UVU student from campus after the match.
What came after that
After the game, Richardson’s family said she was also approached by a white man who told her to watch her back. It’s unclear if that’s when the UVU student who was banned approached who he thought was his friend, according to the police report.
The next morning, Richardson met with Holmoe, BYU’s athletic director, at the team hotel. BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead also said she spoke with Richardson at a separate time.
Richardson specified what she wanted Holmoe and BYU to do, including “staff and players undergoing education and training to better address and prevent the racist, ignorant and ignorant behaviors that were exhibited by their fans during the match.”
“I really felt heard and seen during that conversation,” she said of her meeting. “I could feel and I could see how sorry he was and honestly shocked that it happened.”
She said several BYU volleyball players have also contacted her “just expressing how sorry they are.”
“That’s a great group of girls. They were so sweet,” Richardson said. “Acted so sportsmanlike before the game, after the game, during the game.”
She added: “I just see it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that racist incidents like these, they still happen. It’s 2022 and it should be unacceptable, but it’s still happening.”