Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

BYU bans a fan who yelled a racist slur at a Black volleyball player on Duke's team

This April 19, 2016, file photo, shows a welcome sign to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. BYU says it has banned a fan that yelled racist slurs at a Duke University volleyball player this weekend.
Rick Bowmer
This April 19, 2016, file photo, shows a welcome sign to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. BYU says it has banned a fan that yelled racist slurs at a Duke University volleyball player this weekend.

Updated August 28, 2022 at 6:29 PM ET

College volleyball's opening weekend ended with a fan banned from Brigham Young University's athletic facilities and statements expressing regret from two universities and the governor of Utah after a Black player on Duke's volleyball team faced racist slurs during a game in Provo, Utah.

The Duke volleyball team – including starter Rachel Richardson, a sophomore from Ellicott City, Md. – had traveled to Utah to participate in a multiday tournament at BYU's Smith Fieldhouse.

There, during a Friday match against BYU, Richardson and other Black Duke players "were targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match," Richardson said in a statement on Sunday.

"The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe. ... As a result, my teammates and I had to struggle just to get through the rest of the game," she added.

Previously, the incident gained attention from a Twitter post by Lesa Pamplin, a Texas-based attorney and Richardson's godmother, who said Richardson was called a slur "every time she served."

"She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus," Pamplin said.

After Duke's players complained, a police officer was positioned near the Duke bench for the rest of the match, according to Richardson's father, Marvin Richardson. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Marvin Richardson expressed disappointment that BYU officials had not done more.

"Why wasn't the fan removed? After the notification was made to officials and the coaching staff was made aware, why wasn't something done then?" he said.

In her statement Sunday, Rachel Richardson said BYU officials "were made aware of the incident during the game, but failed to take the necessary steps to stop the unacceptable behavior and create a safe environment."

Pamplin, who is a candidate in a Fort Worth judicial election, said in a subsequent statement released Saturday that "every American should be enraged that a young lady was subjected to hateful, demeaning language, and we should be even more outraged that it took a tweet from me in Tarrant County, Texas, to bring this incident to light."

In a pair of statements, BYU Athletics apologized for the incident and said the fan had been banned from all campus athletic venues.

"We will not tolerate behavior of this kind. Specifically, the use of a racial slur at any of our athletic events is absolutely unacceptable and BYU Athletics holds a zero-tolerance approach to this behavior," the school said.

The offending fan was not a student, school officials said, although the person was sitting in a student section. Roughly 5,500 people were in attendance.

"When last night's behavior was initially reported by Duke, there was no individual pointed out and despite BYU security and event management's efforts, they were not able to identify a perpetrator of racial slurs. It wasn't until after the game that an individual was identified by Duke who they believed were uttering the slurs and exhibiting problematic behaviors," the school said in a second statement.

On Saturday, Duke announced that its subsequent game was moved to a different location off of the BYU campus "to afford both teams the safest atmosphere for competition."

Players "should always have the opportunity to compete in an inclusive, anti-racist environment which promotes equality and fair play," said Duke athletics director Nina King in a statement. "We are appreciative of the support from BYU's athletic administration as we navigate this troubling situation."

Late on Saturday, the Republican governor of Utah called the incident "terrible news."

"I'm disgusted that this behavior is happening and deeply saddened if others didn't step up to stop it," Gov. Spencer Cox wrote on Twitter. "As a society we have to do more to create an atmosphere where racist a**holes like this never feel comfortable attacking others."

Ahead of BYU's Saturday game, Tom Holmoe, BYU's athletic director, spoke to the crowd and urged fans to support their team without "[crossing] the line" into harmful language.

"As children of God, we are responsible. It's our mission to love one another and treat everybody with respect, and that didn't happen. We fell very short," Holmoe said.

On Sunday, Richardson said that although "the heckling eventually took a mental toll on me, I refused to allow it to stop me from doing what I love to do and what I came to BYU to do; which was to play volleyball."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.