Brigham Young University (BYU), a private religious university in Provo, Utah, was at the center of yet-another racism hoax on a college campus. The university, which is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has since investigated the claims and found no evidence to support allegations of racist behavior by one of its fans.
As Deseret News reported, during an August women’s volleyball match between BYU and Duke University, Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson claimed that a fan in the student section kept repeating racial slurs towards her during the match.
Her godmother, a candidate for office in Texas, tweeted out the allegations. But when scrutiny about the story intensified, she made her Twitter account private and remained silent.
After Richardson told BYU about the alleged racial slurs, BYU deployed a police officer and four ushers into the student section. However, the police report noted that no offensive or racist words were shouted within earshot. The officer noted that the banned fan likely has Asperger syndrome “or could have autism,” and that this fan did not use racist language.
BYU banned the alleged fan, who is not a student at BYU, and bent over backwards to apologize for the hoax. BYU’s athletic director, Tom Holmoe, spoke to Richardson and Duke’s team and apologized, in addition to scolding fans at the next day’s match for engaging in racism.
The match between BYU and Duke, which BYU won 3-1, set a school record for attendance in a sold-out crowd of about 5,500 fans. Yet the situation had gotten out-of-hand to the point that other scheduled women’s volleyball matches were held in a nearby high school’s gym and not in BYU volleyball’s usual venue.
BYU’s statement reiterated that it interviewed over 50 eyewitnesses, including Duke and BYU volleyball players and athletic department personnel, and no one could corroborate the alleged racial slurs. BYU looked at video and audio recordings, raw footage, security footage, and removed broadcasting audio to try to find the offending words.
Despite BYU’s report, Duke has not apologized for the racism hoax, with volleyball athletes reiterating their continued support for Richardson and her claims. Duke University President Nina King 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.”
The national media ran with the story, with pundits on ESPN blasting BYU for alleged racism. Deseret News pointed out that “ESPN personalities Stephen A. Smith, Michael Irvin and Marcus Spears ripped BYU for what Smith called dereliction of duty for not stopping the banned fan from hurling the alleged slurs as they happened.” It is unclear whether these ESPN employees have apologized to BYU since the report came out.
Another impact from the racism hoax is that BYU women’s basketball had two of its games canceled by the University of South Carolina because of the racism allegations. South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley said that she canceled the two games against BYU due to the allegations despite BYU’s report. South Carolina legislators have since asked the University of South Carolina to provide records about the cancelled games and to issue an apology if the university’s athletic department made the decision without evidence.