All signs point to the BYU-Duke volleyball incident being just another hate crime hoax.
Add it to the list with Jussie Smollett’s run-in with MAGA hat-wearing, bleach-pouring racists outside a Chicago subway, Bubba Wallace’s terrifying encounter with a noose in a NASCAR garage, or a Colorado Rockies fan’s injudicious shouting of a racial slur at a black batter.
Duke University volleyball player Rachel Richardson claimed after a match against Brigham Young University two weeks ago that a member of the BYU student section was repeatedly calling her the N-word while she was serving. The only problem? There’s no evidence it ever happened.
BYU provided an update on its investigation into the incident on Friday. The school says after reviewing multiple sources of footage and speaking to at least fifty individuals who attended the game, they found no evidence that anyone shouted a racial slur.
“From our extensive review, we have not found any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event. As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe. That is the reason for our immediate response and our thorough investigation,” BYU said.
“There will be some who assume we are being selective in our review. To the contrary, we have tried to be as thorough as possible in our investigation, and we renew our invitation for anyone with evidence contrary to our findings to come forward and share it,” the school added, noting that Duke athletic department personnel were interviewed as part of the probe.
Richardson’s accusation immediately became one of the biggest news items in sports. Mainstream media outlets had a field day with the incident. After all, they never shy away from an opportunity to paint white churchgoers as racist fools. ESPN, Good Morning America, ABC News, Deadspin, CNN and others all took Richardson’s claims at face value. LeBron James voiced support for Richardson. The University of South Carolina’s women’s basketball team canceled a series against BYU in light of the allegations.
BYU’s own athletic director jumped into action, promising to move the student section away from the serving lines and apologizing to Richardson for her alleged experience. BYU banned one fan from games after the Duke team claimed he had the same voice as the person shouting the racial slur. That fan has now been unbanned.
The story warranted immediate skepticism for a number of reasons, which I wrote about last week. The odds of someone shouting the N-word in public in 2022 and not being confronted or captured on camera are probably about one in a million. The BYU basketball team, which has multiple black players, was standing right next to the student section when the slurs were allegedly yelled and did not react. As far as I know, no other member of the Duke team has publicly confirmed that they heard the slurs. BYU police and the athletic department were practically begging another witness to come forward. Oh, and Richardson and her godmother both have a history of anti-white social media posts.
Instead of at least waiting for more details to emerge, some in the media suggested it was unacceptable to question the allegation because it was made by a black woman. Mike Freeman wrote for USA Today that it is akin to a “conspiracy theory” to suggest Richardson might be lying or that she may have misheard a slur from a raucous crowd.
“In many ways, this story is about race and how Black people have to constantly prove we’re not criminals or liars,” Freeman wrote. “To many of these people, Richardson’s word doesn’t mean anything. She automatically cannot be trusted.”
But those who defended Richardson helped victimize a member of another marginalized class; the reportedly mentally challenged fan who was falsely accused of yelling the slurs and temporarily banned from BYU games.
Duke should offer an apology for sending BYU on this wild goose chase and tarnishing the school’s name to the entire country. Instead, the school has doubled down.
“The eighteen members of the Duke University volleyball team are exceptionally strong women who represent themselves, their families, and Duke University with the utmost integrity. 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. #HateWontLiveHere,” director of athletics Nina King said in a statement.
Not surprising, unfortunately. Duke canceled its lacrosse season and forced the team’s coach to resign after three players were accused of rape in 2006. The legal system eventually found that the young men were falsely accused.
I don’t claim to know Richardson’s character or motivation. Maybe she simply misheard, or she exaggerated a story and it quickly spiraled out of control. However, it was certainly up to the adults in the room to wait for more evidence before smearing a group of young adults. They failed.