In the fall of 2020, and in the face of significant racial tensions across the country, our BYU football players chose to focus on the theme “Love One Another.” Virtually every BYU student has sung that refrain during Sunday worship. This Christ-centered message should guide us as we strive to root out racism in all of its forms.
During the BYU vs. Duke women’s volleyball match, Duke’s Rachel Richardson reported that she was targeted with racist slurs — the opposite of Christ’s call to love one another.
Let me be clear where BYU stands on this issue: racism is disgusting and unacceptable. We have worked to understand and follow-up on Rachel’s experience with sincere commitment and ongoing concern. To say we were extremely disheartened by her report is not strong enough language. BYU and BYU Athletics are committed to zero-tolerance of racism. Any fan found engaging in racist insults will be banned from our athletic venues.
I want to also address a percolating narrative that BYU (and even Duke) did not do anything to address the situation. When the complaint first surfaced, BYU head coach Heather Olmstead immediately took action. Four staff and a uniformed police officer were placed in the student section. They were later joined by an athletic administrator from Duke.
Coach Olmstead’s reaction in alerting event management staff was immediate and decisive. The crowd was large and boisterous but there were no observations of racist behavior.
After the game, a Duke player identified one fan as having yelled racist remarks. He was escorted out of the arena and banned from future athletic events pending review. Additionally, BYU has continued to carefully review all event audio and video in search of any racist statements or behavior.
The game video is publicly available on BYUtv, and we welcome anyone who might have more information of any inappropriate behavior from the event to reach out to the university. But the narrative that our coaching staff didn’t take immediate action is unsubstantiated and unfair.
Another false narrative is that coach Olmstead refused to meet with Rachel and me on Saturday morning. In my conversations with the Duke head coach about meeting with Rachel, Heather was never asked by Duke or Rachel to be in that meeting.
Regardless of whether we were able to identify racist statements during the event, my first concern remained for the student athlete who felt unsafe in our venue. I met with Rachel and her head coach the following morning. I apologized to her and spoke to our entire fan base later that night. BYU Athletics separately issued a statement condemning racism, which we continue to stand by.
I was touched by what Rachel said to ESPN about our interaction: “I very much so felt heard and felt seen during that conversation. ... And I don’t want BYU to be singled out or looked at as a bad institution because of this one thing … that doesn’t represent the entire university of BYU.”
I’m grateful for Rachel’s perspective. This is personal for me. It is personal because of my interaction with Rachel. It is also personal because of the many BYU coaches, athletes, staff and students who are people of color.
I think of my own former BYU teammates of color. I think of our head football coach and our starting quarterback, both people of color, who served missions for our church and are exemplary in every way. I stand with Rachel, with our entire BYU community, and any others in rejecting racism.
As part of the BYU Honor Code, students and employees agree to “respect others, including the avoidance of profane or vulgar language.” Obviously, this also includes racist language. I have met with our coaches and athletic staff this week. They are united in taking any necessary steps when our athletic venues don’t live up to these ideals, including stopping play when necessary.
While some will try to define BYU by this incident, we will ultimately be defined by how we respond. The BYU I know and love rejects racism. This includes current and former members of the BYU community, like former NFL player and Christian pastor Derwin Gray, who wrote this week, “I’m Black, and I bleed blue. I played football for Brigham Young University. I cheer for BYU, and I Iove BYU. But that doesn’t mean I think we’re perfect. We can always improve. As Christians, as a community and as a country, we all need to address racism.”
Let’s embrace the words of Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent! ... God does not love one race more than another ... I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.”
Tom Holmoe is the athletic director at BYU.