It’s been nearly two weeks since the BYU-Duke volleyball match and the subsequent allegation of racial taunting and slurs against a Duke player.

And yet, today, there are still more questions than answers about what took place.

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

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

Even if you distrust BYU’s review of its own 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. 

The only thing that is unequivocally clear about this troubling story and the most extreme reactions to it is that it’s become a Rorschach test. Like the famous psychological exercise, how we see the ink-blotted image (or, in this case, the game) depends on our biases going in.

People who want to believe BYU is a hotbed of festering racial animus — despite evidence to the contrary — see something monstrous in the messiness surrounding this story. Activist types have been quick to cherry-pick evidence they think supports labeling more than 30,000 students and faculty as racist through and through.

South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley even pulled her team from two forthcoming games with BYU. ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith without evidence accused BYU of “dereliction of duty.”

The biases aren’t only on one side.

People who want to believe that some Americans use the “race card” to foster division or gain notoriety see that narrative here.

Looking for evidence of the latter worldview, some have combed through old tweets of the player’s godmother (who wasn’t at the game but tweeted about the incident) and found some troubling, even racist material. Others have likened this case to that of Jussie Smollett, the actor who was found to have lied about being the victim of a hate crime.

Meanwhile, the #MeToo catchphrase “Believe All Women” was evident in how the story was reported, with little of the journalistic skepticism that traditionally goes with vetting or fact checking a claim.

As journalist Jesse Singal said on Twitter, “a lot of outlets are acting more like their goal is to spread panic and discord than to get at the truth.”

BYU police report details what happened during BYU-Duke volleyball match
Perspective: I’m Black, and I bleed blue. We all need to confront racism

Similarly, media critic Steve Krakauer said in his newsletter “The Fourth Watch” that the story “is not undergoing the national scrutiny it deserves.” While saying that Richardson’s story may yet be shown to be completely true, much of the coverage has the hallmark of what he calls “glance journalism.”

“First, national media outlets see a story, glance at the details, and report it as fact, like (Brianna) Keilar did on CNN. ... Checking the facts, couching it with at least some amount of journalistic caution — out the window. And for the busy audience that catches the initial reporting of this story? It’s a glance, and it’s obvious BYU is full of racists.”

But there’s little new reporting and no mea culpas to be found now; “they just hope (the story) just goes away,” Krakauer said.

It’s worth asking whether the truth may be somewhere in the middle. You can have enormous respect for Rachel Richardson as a player and as a person, and believe she is telling the truth about what she believes she heard, and yet wonder if the truth is still out there, unaccounted for.

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In a three-part video on Twitter, Batchlor Johnson IV talked about his experience with racism while playing football in Utah. He said he’d heard racial slurs uttered against fellow players and had also been the subject of racial profiling by police. But Johnson said he can also accept that what Richardson believes happens may not have been exactly what occurred. He said the story has pulled observers into the extremes — deniers of racism, on the one hand, and those who want to see racism where there isn’t any, on the other.

“It breaks my heart,” he said, when cases like Smollett’s arise because “racist people will use this as ammo to diminish the Black experience and the Black struggle.”

Social progress is made not in the extremes, but in the middle, Johnson said. He encouraged people in the middle to learn more American history and to learn how to effectively problem solve. “Progress is going to be slow. ... You can’t change yourself overnight ... so how are you going to expect to change a group of people overnight?”

It is a powerful message by someone who looked at the BYU-Duke match and saw not one side but both. It’s said that there are no right or wrong answers on a Rorschach test, but that one comes close.

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