Brigham Young University is still investigating racist utterances yelled at a Duke volleyball player last week — in part because campus police say it doesn’t appear the man who was eventually banned was the person who yelled the N-word.
BYU Police Lieutenant George Besendorfer said Tuesday that based on an initial assessment of surveillance footage of the crowd, the person who was banned did not yell while the Duke player was serving.
“When we watched the video, we didn’t observe that behavior from him,” he said.
Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, the only black starter on the team, has said she heard “very clearly” a “very strong and negative racist slur” coming from the student section during Friday’s game as she served.
“Several BYU Athletics employees have viewed videos from BYUtv and other cameras in the facility that the volleyball team has access to for film review. This has been going on since just after Friday night’s game,” Jon McBride, BYU Associate Athletic Director, said in a statement. “The person who was banned was the person Duke identified as making racist comments. However, we have not been able to find any evidence that that person used defamation in the match.”
Based on those reports, it could mean that a second person, who did call the slur, has not yet been identified and that no action has been taken against them by Provo University.
BYU is asking fans in attendance to share videos and accounts from the match to help with the investigation. During the volleyball game the next day, Tom Holmoe, director of BYU Athletic, encouraged them to also ask them “to have the courage to take a stand and take care of each other and, most importantly, the guests, our guests.” whom we have invited to come.” and play here.”
According to the police report, someone left a threatening voicemail for a BYU athletic coach on Sunday – a day later. The report does not identify the coach or provide details about the anonymous message.
The report, with redacted names, was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public registry request. It says the fan who was banned Friday after the game approached a Duke volleyball player in an interaction she reported made her uncomfortable. The police report says the fan came “in the face” of the player, who has not been identified but did not notice if anything was said.
The player’s family has said she was approached by a white man who told her to keep an eye on her.
But afterward, Duke’s coaches and players identified that man as the same one who yelled the N-word from the BYU student section in Richardson, according to the police report.
Police spoke to the man, identified in the report as a Utah Valley University student, and denied that he screamed defamation; he said all he yelled was for the players “not to hit the ball into 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 the footage, according to the report, writing, “There was nothing on the game film to make me believe” that the man “was the person who made comments to the player complaining that he used the N-word. “
During the second set of the match, the officer noted, the UVU student was not present when Richardson was serving. And later, when she served again, he played on his phone, the officer wrote.
But the officers said the athletics department wanted to ban the man, so the school continued with that process. According to the report, the officer told the man that he would not be allowed to attend future matches “indefinitely”.
In a statement after the game, BYU said only that one person “identified by Duke” had been banned.
When asked if police had further examined the footage to see who was screaming the slur — because they could tell the banned UVU student probably wasn’t — Besendorfer said police are no longer watching the video.
He said the job of reviewing the footage has been taken over by BYU athletics and the school’s communications administration.
“There’s a lot of video,” Besendorfer said. “Athletics and university communication, they all look at that.”
It is unclear whether any staff members have forensic experience examining video footage; a university spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on that question on Tuesday evening.
It also raises questions about what will be public in the investigation. The BYU Police Department is subject to requests from public records. Other departments, including athletics, of the private school of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not.
So far, Besendorfer also said, no one from the student body or elsewhere at last week’s volleyball game has reported to BYU police to report the person responsible for the taint. He also said no one has come forward to say they heard the slur during the match. He begged students who had heard the comments to come forward; they can call the police, he said, at 801-422-2222.
“We wish someone would,” he said.
According to the school’s code of honor, students are expected to come forward in situations like these “to maintain the highest standards in their personal conduct regarding honor, integrity, morality, and consideration for others.”
Due to safety concerns raised by the Duke players, their next game against Rider was moved from the Provo campus the day after Richardson reported hearing the slur. BYU also played again on Saturday, where Holmoe called on fans who witnessed to come forward.
“As children of God, we are responsible,” he added. “Our mission is to love each other and treat everyone with respect. And that didn’t happen. We came up short.”
He told CNN Monday that if a student was involved, they risked being evicted.
A mismatched timeline of events
The police report also provides, for the first time, a more detailed timeline of what happened and BYU’s reaction during the game — and some of it doesn’t match what the players told them had happened.
Richardson said she immediately warned Duke’s coaching staff after hearing the racist comments in the second set. At that point, Duke’s coaches told officials as well as 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 bank for the fourth set. No one identified the person making the defamation at the time, the officer said.
Richardson’s family has said that 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 that the racist comments escalated during the match and that some of the comments “grew into threats that [her] feel unsafe.”
The officer said in his report that he personally heard no slander as he stood there visibly listening. He said he only heard BYU fans call certain Duke players by their first names.
Holmoe also said that BYU sent four ushers and an officer to the stands in search of the person who said the racist remarks, as he spoke during the interview with CNN on Monday.
Richardson has since said she wanted the game to continue at the time and felt her own coaches had taken the necessary steps to stop the action.
“That was enough action at the time and it made me feel seen and heard,” Richardson said in an ESPN interview on Tuesday.
However, by the fourth set, Richardson said the racist comments escalated. She also said that some of her teammates were laughed at by the crowd.
“In the fourth set, we went back to that side and it was almost like the vibe of the student section had changed,” she told ESPN. “Even my black teammates sitting on the bench, not playing, were called out, pointed at them and it was really confusing why. Then the racist comments and bickering only intensified.”
The police officer said he spoke to the coaching staff of both teams that night and learned that Duke staffers were angry that he took no action during the fourth set while the taunting continued. They said that the black players were only mentioned by name while none of the white players were.
“I have told the athletic staff that I have never heard a racist remark made,” he wrote in his report. The officer reported that he also spoke to others there who said they had heard no slur.
BYU banned the UVU student from the campus after the game.
What came next?
After the game, Richardson’s family said she was also approached by a white man who told her to keep an eye on her. It is unclear if the UVU student who was banned when he walked over to his friend, according to the police report.
The next morning, Richardson met Holmoe, BYU’s athletic director, at the team hotel. BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead also said she spoke to Richardson at another time.
Richardson specified what she wanted Holmoe and BYU to do, including “staff and players who receive education and training to better address and prevent the racist, ignorant and asinine behavior that their fans exhibited during the game.”
“I felt very heard and seen during that conversation,” she said of her meeting. “I could feel and I could see how sorry he was and I was genuinely shocked that it happened.”
She said several BYU volleyball players also contacted her “to express how sorry she was.”
“That’s a great group of girls. They were so sweet,” Richardson said. “Before the game, after the game, during the game acted so sporty.”
She added: “I just see it as an opportunity to raise awareness that racist incidents like this are still happening. It’s 2022 and it should be unacceptable, but it’s still happening.”