Racism is still a problem in this country, but making false or unclear allegations won’t help solve it, said ESPN host Stephen A. Smith on Friday during a “First Take” segment on BYU’s Aug. 26 volleyball match against Duke.
He and his co-hosts were responding to BYU Athletics’ new statement about the match, which addressed Duke player Rachel Richardson’s concerns about racist fans.
BYU leaders said their extensive investigation found no evidence that one or more fans had shouted racial slurs, and that they had lifted the ban on a fan thought to be responsible for Richardson’s discomfort.
“There will be some who assume we are being selective in our review. To the contrary, we have tried to be as thorough as possible in our investigation, and we renew our invitation for anyone with evidence contrary to our findings to come forward and share it,” the statement said.
BYU Athletics did not criticize Richardson in the statement or accuse her of lying. Instead, school leaders reiterated their commitment to rooting out racism.
“Despite being unable to find supporting evidence of racial slurs in the many recordings and interviews, we hope that all those involved will understand our sincere efforts to ensure that all student-athletes competing at BYU feel safe,” the statement said.
On ESPN, Smith’s co-host, Marcus Spears, questioned why BYU moved so quickly to ban the fan if it hadn’t finished investigating the incident. The timeline is “a little bit crazy,” he said.
Smith noted that the new statement won’t stop many people from being skeptical of BYU. But he said his attention has shifted to having better conversations about racism.
“Racism (and) prejudice still exists in this country. We all know it. We all know how prevalent it is and we know that it’s something that completely needs to be eradicated. Having said that, we’re not doing ourselves any favors if we bring it up and broach it when it doesn’t exist. And that’s the key that we need to focus on,” he said, while adding that he’s still giving Richardson “the benefit of the doubt.”
On Friday, Smith and Spears did not take back the comments they made during ESPN’s earlier segment on the BYU-Duke volleyball match. During the Aug. 29 broadcast of “First Take,” they were both critical of BYU leaders, as the Deseret News reported at the time.
In his latest comments, Spears said he is open to Richardson facing punishment if it becomes clear that she was lying.
“I believe everyone should be held accountable for wrongdoing,” he said. “If these things didn’t occur, she needs to atone for that.”
Smith said that people need to be “mindful” moving forward and ensure that racism allegations are “as close to irrefutable as they can get.”