Man Banned from BYU Game Does Not Appear to Have Said Racial Slur, Authorities Say

A man who was banned during a volleyball game between Brigham Young University and Duke University last week for allegedly yelling the N-word at a player does not appear to have actually said a slur after all, BYU campus police said Tuesday.

BYU Police Lt. George Besendorfer said that an initial review of surveillance footage revealed that the man who was banned was not shouting anything at the time he was alleged to have yelled a slur at Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, who is the only black starter on the team, while she was serving.  

“When we watched the video, we did not observe that behavior from him,” he said, adding that the incident is still under investigation.

The investigation comes after Richardson said she “very distinctly” heard a “very strong and negative racial slur” during Friday’s game, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The report notes that it is possible that a second person who was not banned from the game did shout the slur. However, if this is the case, no such individual has been publicly identified.

Besendorfer said no one who attended the volleyball game has reported hearing the slur to police.

Richardson said she told Duke coaches after the second set that she had heard racial slurs. Duke coaches then told officials and BYU coaches.

BYU then placed an officer near the Duke bench during the fourth set, at which time no one identified the person allegedly shouting the slurs. That officer said in his report that he did not hear any slurs while he was stationed near the bench.

Meanwhile, an unnamed source from the BYU athletic department reportedly told the student paper, the Cougar Chronicle, that Richardson “complained of hearing a racial slur during the second set but did not point anyone out. Officials discussed briefly and stationed policemen there… there were no more complaints until after the match.”

He said after the game a “mentally challenged fan approached a Duke player.”

“The Duke team then suddenly recognized the handicapped man’s ‘voice’ as the same one shouting slurs,” the anonymous source said. “They never saw or pointed out a face, just a voice. They banned this man. Not for slurs, but for interfering with visiting guests. BYU Athletics staff went through footage of the entire game and the man Duke identified was never seated in the student section.”

The source said Richardson’s story “doesn’t add up” and accused BYU of banning an “innocent man to appease the mob and make their PR mess go away.”

“While I don’t know if Ms. Richardson genuinely misheard something or intentionally made up this story, it certainly does not constitute the criticism BYU has gotten,” he said. “There is zero evidence of a slur being said. Not a single witness, besides Ms. Richardson, has come forth. Not a single cell phone video or BYUtv’s several camera angles caught a single thing. How unlikely when this person supposedly said a slur during ‘every single serve.’”

The student paper reported that it has been unable to find a source in the student section who heard the racial slurs. The outlet spoke with several students who attended the game who said they did not hear the slurs.

However, Richardson’s claims, including a statement where she said the racial slurs escalated throughout the match and ultimately “grew into threats which caused [her] to feel unsafe,” were picked up by several national media outlets, including the New York Times, NPR, CNN, and The Hill.

The Atlantic‘s Jemele Hill suggested Duke should have cancelled the rest of the series of games against BYU in support of Richardson, while USA Today’s sports race and inequality editor wrote a column arguing that Richardson is a “victim” but also a “hero surrounded by a lot of people who failed her.”

Richardson’s father and godmother have both spoken to media outlets about the alleged slurs despite not having been in attendance at the game. The godmother, Lesa Pamplin, is a candidate for circuit court judge in Fort Worth, Texas, and has been vocal about the alleged incident on Twitter.

A police report obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune with names redacted said the fan who was banned “got in the face” of another Duke volleyball player after the game in an interaction that made her uncomfortable, though the report did not say if anything was said. 

The player’s family has said she was approached by a white man who told her to watch her back. Duke coaches and player then identified the man as the one who allegedly yelled the N-word from the student section, according to the police report.

The man, a Utah Valley University student, denied shouting any slurs and said he approached a Duke player after the match on accident, mistaking her for a friend of his who played for BYU as the uniforms are the same color.

The UVU student was not present during the match’s second set when Richardson reported hearing the slurs, according to the report. However, he was told not to attend any future games “indefinitely” on orders from the BYU athletic department.

Besendorfer said the police department is no longer looking at the video and it has been given over to BYU athletics and the school’s communication administration for further review.

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