BYU fan’s racial heckling of a Duke volleyball player was deplorable. Those who failed to stop it were just as bad

OPINION: Instead of responding with disapproval, gladly pointing out the perpetrator(s) and cheering as security moved in for removal, everyone within earshot contributed to a comfortable atmosphere for abuse.

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We need a scale to compare but we want less evidence to weigh. While the impact of offenses varies, there’s an overabundance of perpetrators, including police, politicians, preachers, and public figures. And that’s before we reach the ranks of random white folks.

A bunch of the latter gathered Friday for a women’s volleyball game at Brigham Young University, where Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson tweeted that “my fellow African American teammates and I were targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match. The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe.” 

Her godmother, Texas-based attorney and judicial candidate Lesa Pamplin, tweeted that Richardson “was called a n— every time she served. She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus.” A police officer was placed near the bench after players complained. BYU officials, hosts of the doTERRA Classic tournament, moved Duke’s Saturday game to an off-campus site and banned a fan from the Cougars’ athletic venues.

On the grand scale of things, this incident isn’t close to a tipping point. 

It’s not Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd or 17 state legislatures’ passage of restrictive voting laws. It’s not the evangelical right’s racist zeal or Tucker Carlson’s nightly poison. It’s no match for the homicidal rage of Average Joes who might shoot up a Black church or supermarket. 

But it’s also not just one ignorant bigot berating Black girls. 

The school issued two separate statements afterward, neither of which acknowledged the problem’s scope. “We are extremely disheartened in the actions of a small number of fans,” BYU said initially. But why wasn’t the fan thrown out immediately? Why not do more than station an officer by Duke’s bench as the match continued? The second statement revealed the answer and proved many fans were complicit.

“When last night’s behavior was initially reported by Duke, there was no individual pointed out and despite BYU security and event management’s efforts, they were not able to identify a perpetrator of racial slurs,” the school said. “It wasn’t until after the game that an individual was identified by Duke who they believed were uttering the slurs and exhibiting problematic behaviors.”

I don’t know how many tossed out the n-word, but plenty more among the record crowd of 5,507 displayed deplorable behavior. 

Instead of responding en masse with disapproval, gladly pointing out the perpetrator(s) and cheering as security moved in for removal, everyone within earshot contributed to a comfortable atmosphere for abuse. Apparently, none of those fans said anything to corroborate Richardson’s statement, creating an open call for trolls and skeptics.

Did it really happen? Was it actually every time she served? Where’s the video? Remember the Duke lacrosse case and Tawanna Brawley? What about rap music?

This is why we must ration our anger and regulate our outrage, monitoring the flow like an IV drip. There’s always something to remind us that racism is alive and well, mixed like the concrete that formed this country’s foundation from the start. History is indisputable but deniers are inevitable, committed to defending, excusing, or minimizing acts that carry far greater consequences than athletes’ discomfort.

“At last night’s game, there were some egregious and hurtful slurs that were directed at members of the Duke University women’s volleyball team,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said Saturday in addressing fans at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse. “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 (Friday). We fell very short.”

One could argue that Holmoe “fell very short” in his comments by 1) failing to call out racism directly and 2) providing some cover for those who failed to act, saying “If you would have met her, you would have loved her, but you don’t know her and so you don’t feel that way.” This may have been the most infuriating part of his speech. Why do white people have to “know” a Black person to treat them with dignity and respect? Richardson’s humanity should have been enough.

Some might contend it’s par for BYU, an offshoot of the Mormon Church; the school’s student body is less than 1 percent Black. In October 2020, church president Russell M. Nelson called for “members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.” A university report last year found that students of color “often feel isolated and unsafe at BYU due to racism.”

Now Richardson knows how those students feel. 

She’s a casualty of some random white folks in the stands during a college volleyball game. Though the heckling took a toll, she “refused to allow those racist bigots to feel any degree of satisfaction from thinking that their comments had ‘gotten to me.’” It wasn’t the streets of Minneapolis or lawmakers in Florida. But it was something.

“On behalf of my African American teammates and I, we do not want to receive pity or to be looked at as helpless,” she wrote. “We do not feel as though we are victims of some tragic unavoidable event. We are proud to be young African American women; we are proud to be Duke student athletes, and we are proud to stand up against racism.”

We have to stand to avoid being walked over and stomped out. It gets tiring. It’s redundant. But we can’t grow weary and let offenses slide. 

Too many folks already do that.

“I’m disgusted that this behavior is happening and deeply saddened if others didn’t step up to stop it,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted. “As a society, we have to do more to create an atmosphere were racist a**holes like this never feel comfortable attacking others.”

That means verbal abuse attacks from random fans at a game and more consequential aggression from police, politicians, preachers and public figures. No, not all attacks weigh the same and not all merit the same response.

But all must be accounted for.

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.