It’s quite clear who Brigham Young University has decided to stand up for after Black Duke University students were forced to endure racial slurs during a volleyball match on Friday in the school’s Smith Fieldhouse. Unfortunately, it is not Black students. Duke players indicated a number of people in the student section at the game in Provo, Utah, used racial slurs throughout the match, which by the way attracted a record crowd of 5,507 attendees, according to the News & Observer.
Brigham Young, a private Christian school, banned only one spectator from its athletic facilities. University spokesman Jon McBride told the News & Observer on Sunday that the Duke players could only identify one person. “It wasn’t until after the game when an individual was pointed out by Duke,” McBride said. “That individual received the ban. The Duke team nor our staff could not identify others, but we recognize their assertion that they heard others.”
The school issued another statement:
“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. 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.”
Because the remarks were made on the first day of the two-day doTERRA Classic, Athletic Director Tom Holmoe had an opportunity to reprimand the racist hecklers publicly at the following day’s game. He simply chose not to. Instead, he recognized what he called “egregious and hurtful slurs” directed at Duke volleyball players and said “the process to get better and to heal has already begun.”
In some kind of weird plea to the racists, Holmoe told the crowd he met with one of the volleyball players and her coach after the incident. “If you would have met her you would have loved her,” he said, “but you don’t know her and so you don’t feel that way.
“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 then asked those at Brigham Young games to “take a stand” and cheer on their school but “do not cross the line where you would hurt or harm anyone in anyway.”
It was an odd directive, to say the least. Journalist Soledad O’Brien said the apology “fell short.” “He had an opportunity to condemn racist behavior and he failed,” O’Brien tweeted. “She was not harassed because BYU students ‘don’t know her’. The slurs were racist. This was a fail by the BYU Athletic Director.”
Rachel Richardson, a Black Duke sophomore who plays the position of outside hitter, said in a statement on Sunday that she and her Black teammates were “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match.”
“The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe,” she said. “Both the officials and BYU coaching staff 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.
“As a result, my teammates and I had to struggle just to get through the rest of the game, instead of just being able to focus on our playing so that we could compete at the highest level possible.”
Holmoe followed the student’s words with an attempt to grab credit for meeting with her. He said in a tweet that he stands with Heather Olmstead, the school’s women’s volleyball head coach. Olmstead released a statement saying “racism in any form has no place at BYU.”
Holmoe’s response: “I am glad she was able to speak with Rachel. I want to clarify that I was the one who made the decision to represent BYU at the meeting with Rachel Saturday morning.”
It’s no wonder why Brigham Young faced backlash on social media. The officials representing the school seemed to have completely missed the point of Richardson’s words.
“No athlete, regardless of race should ever be subject to such hostile conditions,” she said.
That’s the whole point. That’s the culture that officials need to focus on addressing in real time, and not with private meetings and apologies that happen hours after the harm has been done.
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