A student-athlete with Duke University’s women’s volleyball player took to Twitter on Sunday to criticize the failure of officials and Brigham Young University staff last week who failed to immediately address a stream of racial slurs and comments that targeted her during a match in Provo, Utah.

A host of officials from both schools eventually denounced the slurs that happened through “the entirety of the match,” Richardson, a sophomore, wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.

Richardson on Sunday tweeted from her iPhone that “the slurs and comments” targeting her and her teammates “caused us to feel unsafe.”

“Both the officials and and BYU 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,” wrote Richardson, who later added, that the officials and BYU staff “also failed to adequately address the situation immediately following the game when it was brought to their attention again.”

But, with the incident inevitably attracting nationwide attention and widespread consternation, another question has emerged: why didn’t Duke women’s volleyball coach Jolene Nagel, or even BYU Cougars head coach Heather Olmstead, stop the match in protest?

Executive board members of the Duke United Black Athletes asked a similar question in a statement made public on social media over the weekend while denouncing the “heinous incident.”

While acknowledging that no university can control the actions of its fans, the Duke UAB board members said they were “disappointed in the lack of immediate actions from both institutions.”

“It is disheartening, to say the least, that Black students continue to experience these traumatic events,” the executive board members added.

That unseemly sports moment on BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse Friday did not take place in, say, 1947, during Jim Crow, when baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson endured all manner of verbal abuse after he crossed Major League Baseball’s color line and was told by Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey to not fight back.

Indeed, during this modern sports era, if Nagel had taken her team off the floors until the slurs stopped, it would not have been without precedent. 

During a 1993 basketball game between the Providence University Friars and Georgetown University Hoyas, GU Coach John Thompson pulled his team off the floor when a fan held up a sign that declared “Ewing Can’t Read” in reference to his team’s star player, future NBA Hall of Famer Pat Ewing.

Nagel, on Monday, was not immediately available for comment by phone or email.

BYU Athletics on Saturday afternoon issued an apology to Duke and its student-athletes who participated in Friday’s match. BYU officials also announced that the noxious fan had been permanently barred from all of the school’s athletic venues.

“At last night’s game, there was some egregious and hurtful slurs that were directed at members of the Duke University women’s volleyball team,” BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe said the next day. 

Holmoe, speaking to fans in attendance for a Saturday volleyball match at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse, said that he had visited with Richardson and Nagel after the incident.

Then he stated the obvious, while illustrating the absurdity of racism.

“If you had met her, you would have loved her,” he said. “But you don’t know her and so you don’t feel that way. As children of God it is our mission to love one another and treat everyone with respect.”

That’s progress enough coming from the athletic director of a school named to honor a man who decreed that Black men could not hold Mormon priesthood.

The private university was founded in 1875 “by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life,” according to the school’s website.

Brigham Young succeeded the more racially open-minded Mormon church founder Joseph Smith in 1852. Young reportedly often repeated a “long-standing folk belief” that Black people are descendants of the Biblical figure Cain who was cursed by God for killing his brother, according to an essay by historian Matthew Bowman in a 2018 edition of conversation.com.

Bowman also cited historical evidence that indicates Young’s underlying motive for banning Blacks was the distress he and his white colleagues felt “when black members of the church sought to marry white women.”

Young, Bowman wrote, “seems to have believed that barring black men from the priesthood, and both black men and women from the ritual of sealing would prevent racial intermarriage in the church.”

Although the Mormon church has lifted those restrictions, Bowman noted that as recently as 2012, a BYU professor “suggested that God had put the earlier ban in place because black people lacked spiritual maturity.”

Late Saturday afternoon, Duke athletics director Nina King issued a statement saying the well-being of the school’s student-athletics is “first and foremost.”

“They should always have the opportunity to compete in an inclusive, anti-racist environment which promotes equality and fair play,” King stated in the release.  

King noted that the “18 members of our team — our four Black student-athletes, in particular — have shown tremendous comradery (sic) and leadership and are to be commended for their perseverance.”  

On Sunday, Duke University president Vincent Price also issued a statement saying he was “outraged by the racist slurs and taunts directed at members of our volleyball team at BYU this weekend. 

“Duke is fully committed to providing a safe, inclusive environment for competition, and we will not tolerate any racism or harassment of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, or fans,” Price stated.

On Sunday night, just after 9:35 p.m., the Duke volleyball program made public a statement that indicated “immediate action was taken by our student-athletes and staff to address the horrific circumstance which included racial slurs and threats.”

“We stand against any form of racism, bigotry or hatred,” volleyball officials stated in the release. “As a program we have worked extensively to create an inclusive and safe environment where our student-athletes feel heard and supported but are not naive to the fact that there is always work to be done.”  

Of course, ACC sports fans have a long, and at times, infamous tradition of heckling the opponents of their favorite teams in attempts to unnerve them. No college sports fans have refined the art of heckling quite as effectively as Duke’s Cameron Crazies, the school’s student section inside of its basketball sports arena.

The Cameron Crazies are credited with coming up with the chant “airball” in 1975, according to ESPN. And their unique brand of heckling over the decades has been widely chronicled, especially when the opposing teams’ players would be standing at the free throw line.

During the 1990s, after University of Maryland player Adrian Branch reportedly landed into legal trouble following a reported marijuana arrest.

“Duke students behind the basket all stood up and yelled, ‘Freeze Police!’” ESPN reported. “Even the other players on [Branch’s] team had to laugh.”

But the humorous, albeit pointed tradition went way left on Friday when a  BYU “fan” targeted Richardson and her African American teammates with racial animus and derision.

The Duke UAB board members say their next step is to work with college athletics departments, starting with Duke, to help implement policies to prevent incidents like the one Friday at BYU from happening or escalating.

“Unfortunately, policies are not and never will be enough,” the board stated in its release. “UAB encourages doing the work and staying educated to actively be an anti-racist and aid in creating comfortable spaces and environments for everyone, in and out of athletics.”

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. 

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.