BYU police report details what happened during BYU-Duke volleyball match
Police report and an ESPN interview with a Duke volleyball player add new information to report of racial slurs during the match
A BYU police officer stationed near the Duke volleyball team’s bench during a raucous match on Friday at No. 7 BYU in Provo, Utah, did not hear any racial slurs aimed at Black players, according to a police report obtained by the Deseret News.
BYU’s administration, athletic director and volleyball coach have apologized to Duke and supported a Black player who said she heard a fan or fans use racial slurs while she served during the match. BYU officials have taken action to prevent future incidents and banned a fan Duke players identified as using the N-word.
The incident has led to a death threat against the BYU volleyball coach, according to a second police report obtained by the Deseret News.
The two police reports and an ESPN interview with Duke outside hitter Rachel Richardson, who reported the slurs during the match, have added new information about the allegations of racist behavior that became a national news story. Richardson said she heard the slurs during the second and fourth sets.
BYU Police Det. Sgt. Richard Laursen stood throughout the fourth set next to the man now indefinitely banned from BYU events after Duke players said he used racist language, according to a police report Laursen filed that night. Laursen said he believed the man may have “(A)sperger syndrome or could have autism,” according to the report.
The officer said the man did not use any negative language toward the Duke players during the fourth set. Laursen also said he didn’t hear any racist language used by any fan during that set, when Duke player Rachel Richardson said the racist slurs intensified.
“During the game and while I was standing on the sideline between the Duke players and the ROC section, I didn’t hear or observe any inappropriate comments or language from the ROC section,” he said in the police report, which BYU provided to the Deseret News after a GRAMA request.
Richardson provided additional information about the incident during an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” on Monday. She said she first heard someone use a racial slur as she prepared to serve in front of the ROC student section during the second set of the match won by No. 7 BYU. ROC stands for Roar of the Cougar, which is BYU’s mascot.
“They heckled throughout the entire game,” Richardson told ESPN’s Holly Rowe, who studied at BYU and previously worked on BYU sports broadcasts.
“That’s just a part of sports,” Richardson said of the screaming and shouting by a BYU volleyball record crowd of 5,507. “You get used to playing through extreme environments like that. And very distinctly though, you know, I heard a very strong and negative racial slur.”
Richardson said she served twice during the second set. Broadcast video and play-by-play statistics confirmed that she first served in the set when BYU led 6-3.
“Then the next time I went back to serve I heard it extremely clear again,” she said of her second serve in the second set, when BYU led 21-15. “But that was the end of the game, and so we switched sides.”
The teams switched sides of the court at the end of each game, or set. BYU won the second set, 25-19. Richardson said during the switch, she told a teammate what she’d heard.
“Immediately, she was like, all right, let’s go tell coach, so she came with me,” Richardson told ESPN. “We told our coaches, and they went to the officials. The officials, we saw them speaking with the BYU staff, and then we were told someone was speaking to the student section and I was, ‘All right.’”
Duke won the third set, 25-19, while serving on the opposite end of the court from the ROC section.
During that set, BYU Athletics officials took the information to Laursen, who had spent the second set behind the Duke bench. Laursen approached the ROC president for help trying to find the offender and stationed himself between the ROC section and the Duke bench for the fourth set, according to his report and the BYUtv broadcast of the match. Some of the Duke players, who stood throughout the game, stood directly in front of Laursen.
That’s when he met the young man, who’s age was redacted in the police report, would be banned indefinitely from BYU property for his alleged role in the incident.
Laursen said the man asked why the officer was there and if there was a problem.
“I told him I was there listening for inappropriate comments toward the Duke players and the fan told me that he hadn’t heard any inappropriate comments,” Laursen said. “He said he told the players that they shouldn’t hit the ball into the net, but that was the only comment he made to the Duke players.”
The fan, who Laursen said was wearing a dark yellow or almost tan shirt and jeans, said he was friends with four of the BYU players.
“He seemed to be more interested in talking to me than cheering for BYU,” Laursen wrote. “It was evident based on the individual’s comments, stuttered speech and mannerisms that he has special needs. Based on my training and experience in Crisis Intervention Training, he may have (A)sperger syndrome or could have autism. The individual was articulate, but socially awkward. The individual kept scrolling through his phone and didn’t seem too involved in the game.”
Duke’s victory in the third set pulled the Blue Devils within a game of BYU at 2-1 in the best-of-five match. Richardson said as the teams switched sides again, she felt the intensity of the ROC section had increased.
“Even like my teammates who were on the bench, like my Black teammates who were on the bench who don’t play, like, they were being called out, pointed at,” she said. “It was really confusing as to why.
“And that’s when the racial slurs and heckling, it just grew more extreme, more intense,” she said.
Previously, Richardson has said she heard the slurs whenever she served. In the fourth set, she again served two balls, once when the game was tied 5-5 and then when BYU led 21-16.
Laursen said he did not hear any racist language. He said ROC section fans tried to distract the players.
“Good luck focusing there,” a BYUtv announcer said as the broadcast showed ROC section fans, standing a few feet away, yelled at a white Duke player as she prepared to serve.
BYU won the fourth set and with it the match. Laursen reported that afterward, he heard conflicting reports about his performance.
“I was thanked by one of the Duke players,” he wrote. “She shook my hand and said thanks for having their team’s back.”
Then he met with the BYU Athletics official who was in charge of the event. (BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe was not at the match.)
“I was told the Duke players and coaches were very upset with what happened during the game and that the racial comments toward the Duke players was still happening during the fourth set that that (sic) I didn’t do anything about the comments being made,” Laursen wrote.
“I told the (BYU) Athletic staff that I never heard one racial comment being made,” he added.
BYU’s administration, Holmoe and BYU volleyball coach Heather Olmstead all issued apologies to Richardson and Duke and vowed to fight racism. None mentioned Laursen or his police report.
The personal attacks and death threats Heather has received are completely unacceptable and exacerbate what is already a difficult situation. Heather is a remarkable woman, great person and we are so glad to have her at BYU.— Tom Holmoe (@TomHolmoe) August 28, 2022
Holmoe has said BYU also sent four ushers into the crowd to search for the perpetrators during the fourth set. He has called for witnesses to come forward and provide video or photos.
Laursen reported that he was told by the BYU event official that the Duke coaches and players said fans in the ROC section were only yelling the first names of Black Duke players, but Laursen said he heard them yelling the first names of white players, too.
The BYUtv broadcast of the fourth set shows Laursen standing next to the man who was banned after the game. They are seen standing next to a man in a Duke shirt or jacket. Laursen’s report stated that he learned later that the man is a Duke associate or assistant athletic director. He said the men made eye contact multiple times during the fourth set, but the Duke administrator “didn’t point out an issue to me or make any comments to me about any concerns that he had.”
After the match, a Duke assistant coach told Laursen a BYU fan had gotten into the face of a Duke player after the match ended and that the fan made the player feel “uncomfortable.”
The coach pointed to the young man Laursen had been with throughout the fourth set and whom BYU subsequently banned. Laursen noted in his report that the Duke player the fan approached was wearing a blue and white uniforms and that BYU players were wearing dark blue shirts over their black uniforms.
“I approached the BYU fan and took him to the opposite side of the court where there was nobody present and talked to him about getting into the face of one of the Duke players,” the officer wrote. “The individual said he thought the Duke player was a BYU player who is one of his friends. I told the individual that a complaint was made about his behavior and that he needed to avoid Duke players.”
Soon after, the BYU administrator in charge of the event approached the young man and told him that Duke coaches and players said he was the fan who called the players the N-word.
The young man denied using the N-word or any racial epithet. He said he only yelled at the players that they shouldn’t serve the ball into the net.
Laursen said the man was cooperative. He told the man that due to his alleged actions during the match, Laursen would escort him off BYU property. Laursen also advised him not to attend Duke’s game the following day and not to stand with the ROC section for BYU’s game the next day.
“(The man) told me that he wants to be a congressman and that he doesn’t use racial terms,” Laursen said.
The officer said he then reviewed game film of the match with one of the BYU volleyball coaches.
“... there was nothing seen on the game film that led me to believe (the young man) was the person who was making comments to the player who complained about being called the ‘N’ word,” Laursen wrote.
“During the second set, when the comment was reported to having been made, (the young man) was not present when the player was serving,” Laursen added. “On her second time serving during the set, (the young man) was on his phone and didn’t appear to be paying attention to the game.”
The officer said that after he escorted the man off BYU property, BYU Athletics administrators decided they wanted to indefinitely ban him from BYU property while they conducted their investigation of the incident.
Laursen said he assisted two BYU officials in calling the man and listened as they told the man he was banned.
Laursen wrote that he listened as the man told the BYU officials he understood their decision, “but that he was maintaining his innocence.”
Richardson told ESPN’s Rowe that Holmoe visited her at Duke’s hotel the morning after the match, “because he wanted to speak to me and obviously, express how sorry he was for everything that happened.”
“I very much so felt heard and felt seen during that conversation,” Richardson said. “I could feel and I could see like how sorry he was and honestly shocked that it happened. I mean any athletic director, any person running an institution would likely be shocked that something like that could or would happen in 2022.”
Richardson said both Duke and BYU players have been supportive. Her Duke teammates have asked her how they might have responded differently. BYU players reached out to express how sorry they were that she had been targeted.
“Like I said in my statement, that is a great group of girls,” Richardson said of the BYU players. “They were so sweet, acted so sportsmanlike, before the game, after the game, during the game. And even the fact that they reached out to me, it shows a lot. And not even them, other student athletes from BYU have reached out to me, you know, expressing how sorry they were that that happened on their campus.”
ESPN’s Rowe asked Richardson about her own calm conduct during and after the match.
“I believe that meeting anger with anger, it just starts a cycle of more anger,” Richardson said. “As a young Black woman in America, I know I don’t have the privilege of reacting all the time, or else it paints that face of, ‘Oh, you’re just another angry Black woman.’ I felt as though responding to it in the way that I did would help the greater purpose, and that’s creating awareness and that’s allowing everyone from both sides to better see the fact that we should all be working towards a common goal, we shouldn’t be trying to create two sides. What I want the most out of this, one, is to raise awareness and, two, to hopefully encourage institutions such as BYU and others to start really putting in those efforts and the funds to educate the general student body.
“I don’t want to group BYU all together in a negative light. So I’ve just seen it as an opportunity to raise awareness for the fact that racist incidents such as these, they still are happening. It is 2022 and it should be unacceptable, but it still happens and that is due to a lack of education on situations such as these, a lack of education on how to deal with people who might still be ignorant, who might be racist. You know, you have to learn how to look at someone as a person and only that because that’s what helps you meet someone with compassion.”