This is Wrong

I am temperamentally and philosophically disinclined to Internet activism, and I am generally not righteous enough to be calling others to repentance. But I want to be on the record about this.

This is wrong. And it’s not just wrong that one fan was yelling the N word. It’s wrong that all the other fans, and the BYU team and coach did nothing. There is no excuse for silence or politeness in this situation. We have to do better. ALL of us.


  1. christiankimball says:

    I expect comments saying it didn’t really happen that way and the administration is doing what it can and etc. And maybe that’s all true. But my concern is that I see too much waiting for the administration and expecting “the man” to get it right. And us bystanders fretting about whether they will do the right thing in the end. I want to be the person who says to the shouter next to me “shut up” or “get out.” The person who stops the match until they do. The person who chooses the right, on the spot, in the moment.

  2. You took the words out of my mouth!
    Why did someone sitting in the area not contact security? Why did the BYU team continue to play? What possible good did it do to place an officer by the Duke bench – would it not have been more prudent to simply remove the offender?

  3. People have certainly lost jobs for less. If the coach knew this was happening and did nothing, she must be gone. Perhaps this should be the end of the woman’s volleyball season this year. This is an opportunity for President Nelson to make a firm, even blunt statement in Conference next weekend, an extended statement that spells out what people must do, how we must behave. He can meet with the leaders of the NAAPC all he wants (and he should continue doing so) but is the message really getting through?

  4. It frustrates me that, even though a security person was placed there, not a one person would corroborate what could have been heard as far as the court.
    The school should be proactive about it, but it seems it’s following the same “it’s not our job to police people” that is being stridently proclaimed by the church in what it decides to not report.

  5. There was a time years ago when doing whatever was necessary to address racist behavior might have been seen as extraordinary and courageous, something unusually praiseworthy. That is no longer the case. The minimum acceptable action in this situation is to handle it immediately and effectively. BYU fans and officials do not seem to understand that. They are groping toward an appropriate response, but what they have said and done so far shows that they don’t get it. Athletic director Tom Holmoe spoke to the crowd before the next day’s volleyball game. He said, “We didn’t live up to our best.” That is the wrong message. If we have to rise above our normal standard of behavior–if we have to be “our best”–in order to handle that situation appropriately, then our standard is unacceptably low.

  6. @Dave C I doubt we will hear anything about this at GC, just as,we probably won’t hear about abuse,reporting problems.

    It’s disgusting it appears no one spoke up or if someone did, those in charge just let it go.

    Arenas where I’ve attended sporting events have a text number to report an issue. Within minutes, 6-8 off duty police officers show up and the offender is unceremoniously removed.

    BYU could do something similar but they would have to wait for a revelation.

  7. Greg J: oh, I agree, very unlikely. But, an old apostate can hope.

  8. A hot line to report fans is an excellent idea. Racist language screamed at an athletic event needs to result in automatic lifetime bans. Threats should be fully prosecuted.

    What would help most? A Black apostle.

  9. Thank you!

    I’m really scratching my head at BYU’s response to the incident. They claim to have a zero tolerance policy. And yet this incident was completely tolerated. I understand math may not be a PR representative’s strong suit, but I think most of us recognize that 1 is greater than zero.

  10. Pioneer Lady says:

    I’m afraid that based on what I’ve heard, the use of the N word runs deep among the student body at BYU. Our longtime family friend’s son just started his freshman year in Provo in June and could not believe the casual and pervasive use of that language amongst a significant portion of the students with whom he has come into contact. If there is actually zero tolerance for this, it is not working.

  11. What the Post article didn’t report (but Reuters and the NY Times did) is that when it was reported to BYU, they couldn’t identify the offender during the game, and could only figure out who it was after reviewing video footage afterward.

    We don’t know what the reaction of other fans was. Some may have told him to stop. It’s also very unlikely anyone except those seated very close to him could tell who was yelling the slurs. As far as I can tell, Richardson knew she was being targeted, but didn’t see who was doing it.

    It’s disheartening to see the reaction on the Washington Post comments. It feels like a lot of people use opposition to racism as an excuse to indulge other forms of bigotry, in this case, anti-LDS prejudice. Many comments essentially say, “They’re all complicit. The officials are lying when they say they couldn’t tell who did it. And the fans are complicit for not immediately mobbing the offender. But what do you expect? It’s BYU and Mormons are all racist. They have a long history of racism. The only good Mormon is an ex-Mormon.” There’s a mob mentality, a rush to judgment, and no interest in hearing all the facts.

  12. Travis, it doesn’t really matter if most people didn’t know who was yelling. I can think of several ways this horrible behavior could have been stopped at the time if officials had wanted to do so. The game officials could have stopped the game, saying we won’t continue until the perpetrator is gone. The Duke coach could have pulled her team from the floor. The BYU coach could have pulled her team from the floor, saying we won’t play in this environment. Security could have stopped the game until the perpetrator was identified and removed. Students seated next to the perpetrator could have gone to security to report the abuse. The NCAA could say that any team supported by such a fan gets one warning. For a second offense, that team forfeits the game; for a third offense, the team forfeits the season. I’m sure there are other possibilities. My point is that the abuse could have been stopped at that time if anyone in an official position had thought it was important to stop it.

    I understand your dismay at the bigoted responses on the Post website. I don’t understand your apparent dismay that BYU is being held responsible for doing nothing at the time of the abuse.

  13. “The Mormon Church’s own longstanding priesthood ban was, according to Bott, not racist. Rather, it was a ‘blessing.’ Prior to 1978, blacks weren’t spiritually mature enough to be ordained with such authority. Bott compared blacks to ‘a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car,’ and told Horowitz that misusing priesthood authority—like crashing dad’s Oldsmobile—could have put blacks ‘in the lowest rungs of hell,’ reserved for serial killers, child rapists, world-class tyrants, and ‘people who abuse their priesthood powers.’”SLATE 3/2/12

    Why I took BYU off my resume: the crazy sh*t just don’t stop.

  14. PWS, I do think it could’ve been handled better. But to illustrate how hard it can be to get these responses right in the moment, let me point out the problems with the responses you’ve come up with:
    1) This is probably the best option–but at the point at which you stop the game, it’s hard to figure out who the offender was, especially if the only people who can really tell are those right around him, those may be his friends, and you may get contradictory claims from the crowd.
    2) For the Duke coach to pull her team would be to punish them for the behavior of this spectator. I’m sure that’s exactly what the spectator would like to see happen.
    3) BYU wasn’t playing. The game was Duke v. Rider.
    4) See the problems with #1.
    5) This is also what I would hope would’ve happened, but the question is what security does next.
    6) This would be terribly unfair and introduce very perverse incentives. Boorish fans everywhere would be masquerading as their rivals’ supporters and shouting slurs in order to get their rivals banned.

    I think the best response would’ve been for officials to pause the game and announce that there’s been reports of racial slurs being used against players, and any fan found using abusive language will be kicked out, banned from BYU facilities, and referred to law enforcement where appropriate. Then the game should resume, probably with security officials standing around the section where the slurs came from to discourage further misbehavior and identify anyone who tries it again.

    BYU did the right thing to work quickly to identify the fan, ban him from all facilities, reach out to the player and her coach and family, agree to move the remaining games, and address the incident at the next game with fans present. Since at this point we don’t know what the BYU fans seated nearby did, and whether other fans seated farther away even heard, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of shaming the entire school.

    Follow-up article from the Post in which Richardson faults the response by the BYU game officials, but credits Holmoe’s response and says the behavior does not reflect on BYU athletes:

  15. Travis,

    If it can be heard on the court, perhaps 100 people sitting near him/her, knows exactly who the racist trash is, and could have identifed the person. No need to roll tape to figure it out. But BYU had to roll tape because either those sitting near him/her agreed with what was said or were too scared to do the right thing and let the consequence follow.

  16. Travis, your #3 is mistaken, per the article you link.

  17. I keep reading over and over lately in posts defending our conduct as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: we didn’t stop this evil because it was hard. There would have been some bad results for us if we had stood up for the right.

    I’m having a hard time with that.

  18. The spectator seated in the BYU student section (presumably a BYU student?) should have been called out by fellow spectators (in addition to coaches and officials). That he continued – undeterred by those around him – is appalling.

    Apparently, he has been banned from attending future sporting events. He should also be expelled.

  19. Dave, according to the news reports, in spite of sitting in the student section, the person wasn’t a BYU student. That’ doesn’t make the situation any better, and it doesn’t mean that BYU shouldn’t have acted sooner to kick the person out, but it does mean that expulsion from the school isn’t an option.

  20. Contrary to one of the previous posts, the game was Duke vs. BYU.
    If you watch a replay of the game, it’s so loud in that gym it’s virtually impossible to distinguish an individual voice in the crowd. I’d imagine forensic audiologists have the ability to isolate the voice and location.
    Those able to identify the racist would’ve been sitting in fairly close proximity. We don’t know if any of them called him out or if they alerted security, or if security reacted to any reports. Some fans that were at the game have reported on social media that the racist stopped after the second set (halfway thru the game).
    News reports indicate the individual was later caught when making threats to the black Duke players after the game and witnesses realized his voice matched the one they heard shouting the N-word during the game.
    The Duke player’s godmother (whom I believe was not there in person) has been fanning the flames on social media, painting a picture that large numbers of byu fans were shouting the N-word throughout the entire game.
    I think the Duke coach should’ve called a timeout and huddled with BYU coach Heather Olmstead and the referees to halt play until the racist was removed from the Fieldhouse.
    However, we don’t know if they could hear the racist fan themselves, and it’s unclear exactly when the Duke players informed their coach.
    Lastly, Tom Holmoe was at the game. He should’ve paused the game and addressed the crowd as soon as he learned what was going on, which by all indications, was halfway through the game. In my opinion, his remarks the following night were vague, offensively worded and far too late.

  21. Kristine and Todd, thanks for the correction. I’m not sure where I thought I had read it was Duke v. Rider.

    Given that it was Duke v. BYU, should BYU have forfeited the rest of the game? I don’t think so, for the same reasons I think 6) is a bad idea: BYU cannot act like everyone who purports to be (or actually is) a BYU fan speaks for and represents their school, and to do so would be to incentive rival fans to engage in offensive behavior masquerading as BYU fans.

    I appreciate the perspective Todd’s comment added. I haven’t listened to Holmoe’s remarks and if they were offensively worded, that’s another problem. Probably time for some sensitivity and PR training for the whole school.

    Of course, the thing that would help most would be if BYU could diversify its faculty and student body. Unfortunately, recent changes to temple recommend requirements for faculty don’t help with that. I also suspect a conservative opposition in school leadership to anything that looks like affirmative action is hampering diversification among the student body. It’s hard to truly understand the plight of people you don’t know very many of. (See, for instance, the aforementioned hateful anti-LDS opinions at the Washington Post comments section.)

  22. I’m afraid that Travis’ initial response may end up being the Church’s “lesson learned,” that once again WE are the real victims here, not the people subject to racist slurs while we do nothing. It’s the same mindset behind the idea that “religious freedom” is under threat when there are social consequences for homophobic attitudes. It’s the same thought process that was behind the viral message during the George Floyd protests that painted Mormon persecution as at least on par if not worse than what was suffered by other minorities.

    Hopefully that won’t be the Church’s response, but I feel like I’m stuck watching a re-run of the same really bad show.

  23. Many comments are playing shoulda-woulda-coulda. May I join in? Other commenters have suggested this: All it needed is two nearby fans to tell the racist cat-caller to “Shut your mouth.” Maybe 3. Right after the first slur, with no fear, and all the righteous indignation of a seminary teacher, and a bystander or two to agree for emphasis. Repeat until mouth is corked. It isn’t hard once you’ve done a little work of listening to Black folk who are gracious enough to help educate clueless but otherwise “nice” wyt pipo. At BYU I recommend the Black Menaces, but these kindly people are easily found for those who look, but be warned: they won’t coddle you.

    Instead, this incident is reverberating all over news reports and social media, and has the BYU/Church community (us) wringing their (our) hands with needless anxiety. If the harassed athlete was my god-daughter you betcha I’d fan those flames with all my heart, and platform. Now we’re embarrassed and damaged, but the fix isn’t forensic audiology. It’s racism school, training for all members, top to bottom, official and unofficial, taught by Black folks* themselves. The curriculum is already written* and posted. Then, though there might be a next time, it won’t have the damaging outcome like this time.

    *My personal favorite is currently Frederick Joseph. (@fredtjoseph) You should buy his books.

  24. 1. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and volleyball head coach Heather Olmstead could not take any immediate actions or make statements during the game because their hands were tied. Any actions or statements would first need to be vetted and approved by the LDS Church’s law firm Kirton-McConkie. That is the ironclad rule.
    2. The next General Conference will bring talks about how the Church is facing increasing opposition in the media. Circle the wagons. Take a social media fast. No references will be made to the sex abuse coverup scandal or the volleyball game racism.
    3. I despise sex abuse, racism and abrogating moral agency to lawyers. The following quote comes to mind, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

  25. More information has come out about what BYU did both immediately and in the aftermath.

    1. The fan who was banned was not in the student section and was not banned for racial slurs. He was a mentally disabled individual banned for “interfering with BYU guests”.
    2. After BYU received reports during the game, they stationed police officers to monitor the student section (visible in the video), and were unable to identify the alleged perpetrator.
    3. A review of video (both official and from private parties in the student section) has turned up no evidence of racial slurs.
    4. No one who was in the student section has come forward saying that they heard racial slurs, but several have stated that they didn’t hear anything.

    Assuming 3 and 4 are correct, and with video evidence of 2, I find it hard to fault BYU’s response to these allegations. If they couldn’t identify the individual in the moment, and there’s no evidence that identifies them after the fact, what more could they do?

  26. Observer, I think when they first heard the complaint, they could have stopped the game and warned fans instead of just stationing police officers near the bench. At least. Racism is not a problem that requires only finding the individual perpetrator–it’s a problem that requires a communal response.


  1. […] like I was reading a headline from the 1970s. BYU used to have a serious race problem. Guess what? It still does. The racist heckler was apparently not a student, just a BYU volleyball fan who thinks the […]

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