BYU hit by fresh allegations of racist abuse from crowd at athletic event

Fresh allegations of racist slurs being used at a BYU athletic event have emerged, a month after similar claims involving the Duke volleyball team.

Five women’s soccer players from a visiting team told the Guardian they heard the N-word being directed at them and their teammates from the crowd during a game at BYU in 2021. Players had knelt for the national anthem to protest racial and social injustice when they say they heard shouts from the crowd.

“I just remember that there was like a consistent chant of ‘stand up, N-words’ during the anthem and right after,” one of the players told the Guardian. “And when brought to the attention of the BYU coaching staff there was no real response or sense of, like, alarm.”

She added: “I felt disappointed but not surprised. Backlash for kneeling was not new for our group but to hear that in person was shocking. I think both the fans and coaching staff knew we wouldn’t cancel the game after the incident, which once again shows this could be part of a bigger cultural issue within BYU as an institution.”

Four of her teammates independently confirmed to the Guardian that they also heard the chants.

A sixth member of the team did not hear the chants but says the BYU coach was told about them. The coach “seemed shocked and did ask” that “another announcement be made about how fans should behave”. The sixth team member said that an announcement warning fans about their behavior was then made but “nothing else was done to my knowledge”. Because players on the visiting team “wanted to continue with the game”, it went ahead.

The Guardian has withheld the identities of the sources at their request to protect them from reprisal.

“Your inquiry is the first time we are hearing this specific concern,” said Jon McBride, BYU’s associate athletic director for communications and media strategy, in reply to a request for comment. “[At] the match, which occurred [in 2021], BYU responded to a concern from the [visiting team] about fan reaction when players knelt during the national anthem. A public announcement, similar to one made earlier, reminding fans to be respectful was repeated, and the game proceeded. We are not aware of any additional concerns being brought up during the game or any time thereafter. As we have stated, BYU will not tolerate racism in any form.”

The allegations come a month after another claim of racism involving a crowd at BYU. In August a Duke volleyball player, Rachel Richardson, said she had been subjected to racist slurs during a match at BYU and that officials did not react quickly enough when the abuse was reported.

In a statement on Twitter at the time, Richardson wrote that, “my fellow African American teammates and I were targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match. The slurs and comments grew into threats that made us feel unsafe. Both the BYU officials and coaching staff were made aware of the incident during the game, but failed to take the necessary steps to stop the unacceptable behavior and create a safe environment.”

Tom Holmoe, BYU’s athletic director, met with Richardson and the university made several changes to its fans code of conduct. BYU subsequently banned a fan from all its athletic events. However, that ban was later rescinded after BYU reviewed video and audio recordings of the match and spoke to people who had attended the game.

“From our extensive review, we have not found any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event,” BYU said in a statement on the Duke incident. “As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe. That is the reason for our immediate response and our thorough investigation.”