What now? Black pastor and ex-BYU player Derwin Gray’s deep thoughts on racism
BYU’s statement that it lacked evidence to corroborate Duke player Rachel Richardson’s allegations doesn’t mean we should ignore her experience, Gray said
On Friday morning, BYU announced its investigation found nothing to corroborate Duke player Rachel Richardson’s statement that a fan or fans yelled racist slurs at her during a BYU-Duke volleyball match.
Those findings, after extensive video and audio review and interviews with fans and other eyewitnesses at the game, raised the question about what to do with Richardson’s statement that she heard the slurs.
The Rev. Dr. Derwin Gray had deep answers Friday afternoon after he spoke to BYU students, faculty and staff in the Wilkinson Student Center. The Black South Carolina pastor and former BYU and NFL football player has been meeting all week with Cougar athletes and campus religion faculty to talk about race.
BYU’s statement that it lacked evidence to corroborate Richardson’s statement included no evidence that Richardson perpetrated a hoax, and Gray urged people to continue to listen to her.
“You always believe the testimony of a person,” Gray told the Deseret News. “So I think Miss Richardson shared what she believes she heard, and I think (Tom) Holmoe and the athletic department responded properly with (putting) policemen in that area.”
Holmoe, BYU’s athletic director, did not attend the volleyball match in question, but his assistants immediately responded to Richardson’s complaint during the match by moving a policeman from behind the Duke bench to the student fan section where Richardson said she heard the slur. They also moved four additional ushers into the area.
Holmoe apologized to Richardson personally on Aug. 27, the day after the BYU-Duke match, and told the BYU sports community that night at the next Cougar volleyball game that everyone needs to do better at rooting out racism.
“Just because it wasn’t caught on audio or video doesn’t mean that’s not what she heard,” Gray said. “I think Miss Richardson’s statement was she did not believe the (slur) was reflective of the school. I think in a time like ours, it was handled as best that she could handle it.”
Gray also responded to the decision by South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley to cancel a home-and-home series with BYU. She said she didn’t want to subject her players to the possibility of racism.
Gray questioned her decision to separate South Carolina and BYU instead of finding a way to build a constructive opportunity.
“Obviously, Coach Staley’s a phenomenal coach,” Gray said. “I don’t know what her thought process was, but if we did a deep dive into racial epithets, nobody would be playing anybody. I think the way you deal with these issues is, why not come to BYU and do something in solidarity together, talking about the importance of love and unity. I can’t change you if I’m far away from you.”
Gray’s comments about Richardson came shortly after he shared two deeply personal experiences about trauma responses among Black Americans.
“Please understand this, our white brothers and sisters,” he said. “When Black people see police brutality, and their response is that fast, you’re looking at generational trauma. You’re not looking at just one moment, you’re looking at historical trauma.”
The first experience he shared was about a time he spoke as team chaplain to his son’s football team, which was facing an outstanding opponent. Gray decided to retell the story of David and Goliath and brought a slingshot as an object lesson. Before he could talk to the team, he was stopped by two white police officers who confronted him about carrying a weapon.
“The way they spoke to me, from the bottom of my feet I had a trauma response to when I was a kid and I was powerless,” Gray told the BYU audience.
Fortunately for Gray, another officer who had been in his congregation approached to give him a hug and a kiss. He sensed the situation and asked the first two officers if everything was OK. They told Gray he could keep the slingshot.
“You see, I had Derwin Gray privilege,” Gray said. “How many other Black men and minorities don’t have that privilege? It’s not just for me to go, ‘Hey, good for me.’ No, no. If I’m a part of the human community, I want everybody treated with honor and dignity and respect. Now, there are great and wonderful police officers, we know that. But there’s also some messed-up people. And the messed-up people we have to confront with justice and love, or this is going to continue. So for my white brothers and sisters, when you see something like that, try to put yourself in their shoes and go, ‘Oh, I see what the response is.’”
Gray’s second experience was about hearing three white men in a pickup truck yell the N-word at him while he sat at an intersection. Gray’s typical response is to pray and let people go on their way.
This time, he found himself driving fast to catch up to the truck.
“I was angry,” he told the BYU audience. “I’d had enough. I ended up catching them at a stoplight and I rolled down my window and I yelled at him. I said, ‘What did you say?’ They were like, ‘Oh man, we picked the wrong one today.’ They were stuttering and stammering, and then I stopped and I repented, because I allowed them to draw me into their circle of hate, instead of praying them into Jesus’s circle of love.”
He said being a person of color is regularly exhausting.
“There’s never a moment that I don’t know that I’m a Black man in United States of America,” Gray said. “If I dress a certain way, I’m treated a certain way. And that’s just the reality of a fallen world. But the way I move into that world has to be by God’s grace because this isn’t the end yet. This isn’t the finished story. Jesus is going to write a new story, but until that time, it’s really important that we have people around us to love us who are courteous.
“That’s where we need our white brothers and sisters to go, ‘I see you. I see your pain, and I’m with you.’”
On Saturday, Gray will light the Y on Y Mountain before the football game between No. 9 Baylor and No. 21 BYU. He will also lead the Cougars onto the field carrying the Y flag.