Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson recounted how a series of racial slurs during last week’s game at BYU turned into a national news story and reflected how she changed her life in an interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe that aired Tuesday.
Richardson Posted a statement on Twitter on Sunday, two days after fans yelled racial insults at her during her service. “No athlete, regardless of race, should be subject to such hostile conditions,” she wrote at the time. BYU banned a fan from all sports venues on campus on Saturday, the day after the game, and said the sports department had a “zero-tolerance approach to this behaviour.”
The fan was not a student but was sitting in the student section.
Richardson told Rowe that the accidents started in the second set when she was serving. She said that it used to be that crowds would try to intimidate rival players, but it was different that night.
“I’ve heard very negative racial slurs,” Richardson said. “…So I sent the ball in, I got through to play. Then the next time I came back to serve, I heard it very clearly again, but that was the end of the game.”
She said she told her coaches about the incident between matches, and the two teams switched ends of the floor. She said she watched her coaches speak with BYU officials, who she believed acted on the incident. “We were told someone was talking to the student department and I was fine, and that was the end of it,” Richardson said. “And we played our third set on the other side of the net from them.”
In the fourth, she said, “The atmosphere of the student section has changed.” Richardson described the insults and harassment from the crowd as “more extreme, more intense.” The man who was eventually banned from athletics at Brigham Young University was recording things on his phone, she said, “We felt very uncomfortable with him in particular.”
After the match in which BYU won three sets to one, Richardson returned to the team hotel. The next Blue Devils match against Ryder was moved to another location.
Richardson paid tribute to BYU athletic director Tom Holmo, who she said came to speak with her at the team hotel the next morning.
“One thing I can say is that he’s probably one of the most authentic people I’ve ever met,” she said. “I felt very much heard and felt visible during that conversation.
“I could see how sorry he was and was honestly shocked at what happened,” she said.
Richardson said Holmo told her he would address the student section “to make players feel more comfortable in general.”
Holmo later said, “I felt compelled to speak to our fans in attendance and talk about the very unfortunate incident last night. Cougar Nation, we have to be better, and we have to have the courage to take care of each other and our guests at our sporting events at BYU.”
BYU has made changes to its fan code of conduct, starting with Monday’s football match. Volleyball fans also will not sit behind an opponent on the baseline going forward.
Richardson has been in a whirlwind since the accident, and has returned to Duke to start school. I spoke to Roe after a financial stake.
“I think God puts you in places at certain times, near certain people for specific reasons,” Richardson said. “And I believe that and my teammates, for some reason, it was my name that exploded and I’m heartbroken. [believe] This is because God had a purpose behind him. The purpose was that perhaps he knew that I would be able to meet people with affection. And I don’t want BYU to be singled out or seen as a bad institution because of this one thing… that doesn’t represent the whole of BYU. “
She knows that many will look at Duke’s student basketball division Cameron Kreese, who are known to be among the toughest fans in the sport. But she said things would be different in Duke.
“The moment something like that happened at a basketball game, you know, coach [Mike Krzyzewski] Close the game, I went and got the microphone and was like, if you’re doing that, you need to go out or [we’re] Richardson said.
Holmo told Rowe that Brigham Young University is conducting an in-house education on race and equality in the athletic department and is working on plans to expand to students and fans. He also said that from now on, the school will enable coaches and student-athletes to stop the game and not move forward until issues are reviewed and action taken.
Richardson said in her Twitter statement that she did not want to stop the game because she “refused to allow these racist bigots to feel any complacent in thinking that their comments ‘reached me.’ So, I pressed and completed the game.”
She tells Roe that she is glad she made this decision.
“I think the meeting of anger with anger, I think, is just the beginning of a cycle of anger,” Richardson said. “As a young black woman in America, I know I don’t have the privilege to reply all the time or else he paints this face oh, you’re just another angry black woman and you know, my black male counterparts, they also don’t have that privilege otherwise it’s just, oh That’s just like an angry, aggressive black man.”
She said her parents taught her to “be aware of how you understand” and to be respectful.
“In light of, oh, that’s just another black person. Like, no, they should look at me as a person, as someone they are forced to respect me,” Richardson said. “And that’s exactly what I wanted in that game. I could turn around and could say bad things. I could have done anything. I could have been rude to the sporting director when he was kind enough to come and talk to me in person.”
“I could have been rude when I talked to the BYU coach, but no, that doesn’t get you anywhere. I could point a finger and say like, [want] BYU volleyball will be closed. I want to take away this win from them. No, because this is not going to take anyone anywhere. This will not do anything. This would result in all of this regressing to just one position.”
Richardson added, “…It was just a bad situation that was handled poorly. However people apologized. We can move forward. Now we start taking proactive steps. Now we start taking steps in the right direction. We can move forward from that. As You know, I told the coach and the athletic director, you know, I forgive you and it wasn’t your fault what happened. It was your audience. So you didn’t do anything to offend me.”
Richardson said she’s heard from volleyball players, other athletes, and students at Brigham Young University.
“I don’t even want them to be embarrassed about it,” she said. “Like, it’s such a shame that it happened there, but the fact that they are comfortable enough to reach out to me and let me know that they still support me, just goes to show how good the people they really are.”
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