Duke volleyball match moved after racist incident at BYU game

Duke sophomore volleyball setter Rachel Richardson strikes the ball during a match against Davidson at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Aug.  20, 2022.

Duke sophomore volleyball setter Rachel Richardson strikes the ball during a match against Davidson at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Aug. 20, 2022.

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Brigham Young University banned a spectator from attending any of its athletic venues after an incident in which a racial slur was directed toward a Duke player during a volleyball match on its campus Friday night.

In a statement issued Saturday, university officials said the banned spectator is not a BYU student but was sitting in the student section during the No. 10-ranked Cougars’ 3-1 win over Duke in Provo, Utah. A crowd of 5,507, a record for a volleyball match at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse, attended the match.

“To say we are extremely disheartened in the actions of a small number of fans in last night’s volleyball match in Smith Fieldhouse between BYU and Duke is not strong enough language,” the statement said. “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 match was part of BYU’s doTERRA Classic. As a result, Duke announced Saturday that its match with Rider, originally scheduled to be at Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday, would be moved to another gym in Provo. The game was played at a local high school with only staff and family members allowed to attend.

“First and foremost, our priority is the well-being of Duke student-athletes,” Duke athletics director Nina King said in a statement. “They should always have the opportunity to compete in an inclusive, anti-racist environment which promotes equality and fair play. Following extremely unfortunate circumstances at Friday night’s match at BYU, we are compelled to shift today’s match against Rider to a different location to afford both teams the safest atmosphere for competition.”

Duke sophomore outside hitter Rachel Richardson, who is Black, was the target of the slur, according to Lesa Pamplin, who said she is Richardson’s godmother.

On her Twitter account Saturday afternoon, Pamplin said Richardson was called the n-word “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 on Twitter. “A police officer had to be put by their bench.”

Pamplin said Richardson was “upset” and “traumatized.”

“We wholeheartedly apologize to Duke University and especially its student-athletes competing last night for what they experienced,” BYU’s statement said. “We want BYU athletic events to provide a safe environment for all and there is no place for behaviors like this in our venues.”

King said more than one Duke player felt the effects of the incident, thus Duke’s insistence on relocating Saturday’s match.

“We are appreciative of the support from BYU’s athletic administration as we navigate this troubling situation,” King said. “I have been in touch with the student-athletes who have been deeply impacted, will continue to support them in every way possible and look forward to connecting further upon their return from Provo.”

Duke defeated Rider, 3-1, on Saturday night. Richardson started, recording five kills and leading the team with three service aces.

At the same time, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued a statement on Twitter denouncing the fan who used the racial slur and the way the situation was handled.

“I’m disgusted that this behavior is happening and deeply saddened if others didn’t step up to stop it,” Cox said.

This story was originally published August 27, 2022 5:50 PM.

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Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the SC General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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