It’s been nearly two weeks since BYU Women’s Volleyball fans were accused of repeated acts of racism by Duke University during a match.

After two weeks with zero evidence that this horrific allegation occurred, Duke University is obligated to fully admit the toxic, incendiary allegation that the Duke University Women’s Volleyball team was repeatedly harassed with racial epithets during a match with BYU in Provo, Utah is false. Demonstrably false.

Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson posted on Twitter that she was targeted and “racially heckled” during the away game at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse.

After this allegation was reported in hundreds of newspapers and on national television, there is not a single piece of evidence this occurred. Worse, a mountain of evidence refutes the allegation. The assertion that a fan or fans shouted the “N” word multiple times at Richardson did not happen and could not have happened.  

In total, Richardson and Duke appear to have falsely accused:

  • An autistic man who is described as “mentally challenged” and handicapped of being the guilty party.
  • BYU students at large of yelling racial epithets and allowing others to do so.
  • BYU administrators of not taking immediate action after being made aware of the allegations during the match.

Duke University’s lacrosse team was famously falsely accused of race-tinged sexual violence. The false accusation, and the university’s uncritical embrace of it, caused considerable damage to the accused and the university. Now Duke has a responsibility and duty, more than any institution of higher learning in America, to set the record straight and admit that continued racial heckling did not occur.

As reported by Amber Athey, the “story seems to have less evidence than the rape allegations once leveled against members of her school’s lacrosse team.”

Texas lawyer Lesa Pamplin, who is running for a circuit court judge position in Fort Worth, Texas, and is Richardson’s godmother, was the first person to post on social media about the incident.

Lesa Pamplin wrote on Twitter, “My Goddaughter is the only black starter for Dukes volleyball team. While playing yesterday, she was called a n*g*er 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 had to be put by their bench.” 

The godmother was not present at the game. As reported by Outkicked, the godmother is running for public office in Texas and has a concerning past regarding racial conflicts and language.

Rachel Richardson, 19, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience at Duke University,

 tweeted a lengthy statement:

The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe,” Richardson wrote, saying BYU coaches and game officials were made aware of the incident but “failed to take the necessary steps to stop the unacceptable behavior.

They also failed to adequately address the situation immediately following the game when it was brought to their attention again,” she wrote. No athlete, regardless of their race should ever be subject to such hostile conditions.

Richardson’s father told WTVD: “That wasn’t the full story. It’s not just one person during that time that was doing this,” he said. 

Duke University declined to comment on this story. 

Rachel Richardson expanded her claims further in an interview with ESPN that someone in the BYU student section shouted the N-word each time she was in the serving position.

In the fourth set, we went back to that side, and it was almost as if the atmosphere of the student section had changed,” she told ESPN. “Even my Black teammates who were on the bench, who don’t play, they were being called out, pointed at and it was really confusing as to why. That’s when the racial slurs and heckling just grew more and more intense.

I heard a very strong, negative racial slur… so I served the ball, got through the play. And then the next time I went back to serve, I heard it extremely clear again, but that was the end of the game,” she said, adding that the BYU section had gotten “more extreme, more intense.

Richardson and Duke “identified” a man they said was responsible for yelling the word, and BYU immediately announced he was banned from BYU.

Richardson told ESPN said the man who was eventually banned from BYU athletics was recording things on his phone, and “we were just made very uncomfortable by him in particular.”

The last part of that statement is troubling, as I will explain.

After the match, when the autistic man approached a Duke player, Richardson and Duke suddenly recognized the handicapped man’s ‘voice’ as the same one shouting slurs. They never saw or pointed out a face, just a voice.

BYU athletics appeared to agree with Richardson’s claim of racist slurs in an official statement on Twitter indicating that they had “banned a fan who was identified by Duke during last night’s volleyball match from all BYU athletic venues.”

After the inflammatory allegations were made the story broke, however, the Salt Lake Tribune said they could not verify important details of Richardson’s story.

Campus police who examined the video of the match and could not verify any eyewitness accounts of the harassment made by Richardson. The video of the entire match is posted on the internet, and it has been examined frame by frame. There is no evidence the “N” word was ever shouted by anyone.

BYU’s conservative-independent student newspaper was the first news source to report that the entire series of allegations was untrue.

The video of the match shows Rachael Richardson served on the ROC (student section) side four times in the game, twice in the second set and twice in the fourth. A police officer can be seen standing by the ROC section monitoring the students as Richardson serves in the fourth set.

The Cougar Chronicle was unable to find a source in the student section that can corroborate Richardson’s claim of racial slurs being yelled at her. They found countless that attended the game and said this did not happen.

Security and game video exonerated the autistic man. He was not seated in the student section when the slurs were said to have occurred.

I note here that the innocent man was “identified” because she recognized his voice after the match. She “heard him,” but could not identify anybody by sight. When she was interviewed by ESPN a couple of days later, she said the man who was eventually banned from BYU athletics was recording things on his phone and “we were just made very uncomfortable by him in particular.” So, she did not know the man’s face after the match but somehow saw him recording her? 

As noted by Deseret News:

There is no moral ambiguity about what has been alleged. The language we’re talking about is abhorrent to sensible Americans.

But two weeks into this story, we still don’t have evidence beyond the player’s testimony.

Even if you distrust BYU’s review of its video footage, which found no evidence of racial heckling, it’s difficult to imagine being around someone behaving like this without someone confronting the person or filming them, particularly in the student section. 

Richardson’s claim that BYU did not take immediate action also appears false. Police reports indicate that an officer was moved to the area, as were several other athletic staff members.

I told the athletic staff that I never heard one racial comment being made, the officer wrote in his report. The officer reported he also talked to others there who said they had not heard a slur.

Several news outlets have reported that the BYU men’s basketball team, which has several African-American players, were seated in the student section and said they also did not hear racial epithets.

The BYU athletic department did its university a grave disservice by immediately announcing that a fan had been banned without first investigating. The BYU student newspaper quoted an unnamed source inside the BYU athletic department who later said:

BYU Athletics staff went through footage of the entire game, and the man Duke identified was never seated in the student section. Her story doesn’t add up, BYU banned an innocent man to appease the mob and make their PR mess go away.

In announcing the fan was “banned,” the media had little reason to question the story. North Carolina media covered the allegation extensively, but we couldn’t find any evidence of major North Carolina news outlets reporting the significant evidence that refutes the allegations. Their readers and viewers deserve the whole story.

The damage is considerable to the BYU students and the school. South Carolina’s NCAA Champion women’s basketball team already canceled a game at BYU this season. Some South Carolina lawmakers criticized that decision as an “ill-advised overreaction to an apparent erroneous claim.”

I doubt this was an intentional lie, a hoax. I suspect Richardson honestly believed something was said. Then the incident grew stoked by an unquestioning press and cheerleading from her family, leading to a severe case of confirmation bias.

An interview with USA Today gives some clues to Richardson’s mindset:

“This is an opportunity to dig deep into closed cultures which tolerate amoral racist acts, such as those exhibited Friday night, and change them for the better,” Richardson said. “It is not enough to indicate that you are not racist, instead, you must demonstrate that you are anti-racist.”

The problem is the demand for “amoral racist acts” far outpaces the actual supply.

North Carolina media should report doubt about the incident and ask Duke what they will do about it? So far, WRAL has run eight stories, about the same for the News & Observer. At the time of publishing, neither outlet has run an update calling the accusations into question.

Duke needs to sit down with Richardson and talk about there being no proof of slurs being used. She could clarify that she probably didn’t hear things clearly in the heat of the game.

Duke needs to retract its statement after the incident: 

Duke Volleyball experienced targeted racism this past weekend during our match at the Smith Fieldhouse on the campus of BYU. On Friday night, immediate action was taken by our student-athletes and staff to address the horrific circumstance, which included racial slurs and threats…  

Duke can stand by its player but should acknowledge that there is no evidence these events occurred. If this does not happen soon, both Richardson and Duke will elevate this from a terrible misunderstanding to a slanderous lie.

The truth matters. Nobody should be aware of that as much as Duke University. 

Updated statement from Duke University: (9/9/2022)

The 18 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.