Anti-Racism, the Bystander Effect, and BYU

Friday night, a racist BYU fan harassed a Black women’s volleyball player playing for Duke. Among other things, he threatened her and called her a racial slur that is arguably the most offensive word in the contemporary English language. And nobody—not the students surrounding the racist, not the game officials, not BYU’s athletic director, nobody—took actions to stop it.[fn1] (And it’s not like BYU officials didn’t know—Rachel Richardson, the Duke player at whom the racist invective was aimed, said that BYU’s coaching staff was told what was happening. And I’ve been to volleyball games at the Smith Fieldhouse—you can definitely hear what people shout.)

Utah’s governor expressed his “disgust” and sadness at the story, and rightly pointed out that we need to fix society so that “racist a**holes like this never feel comfortable attacking others.” And Sunday night, BYU’s women’s volleyball coach issued an apology and a promise to do better.

But the thing is, this wasn’t an isolated incident. And it’s going to happen again.

Why do I say that? In part because over the last several years, racism has been emboldened and mainstreamed. Partly I say that because this is a repeated theme in Utah athletics. (See fans at Jazz games, high school sports, more high school sports, yet more high school sports, even more high school sports.)

This type of racism is, among other things, a deep moral failure. And it’s a deep moral failure by the church. I’m sure not every person in Utah yelling racial slurs at Black athletes is Mormon. But I’m also sure that some not-insignificant portion are. And, given our dicey history of institutional racism, it’s not a problem we can ignore. It’s not a problem we can deny. It’s a problem we need to confront, and one we need to confront as quickly as we can; it is a hand or foot that we need to cut off and cast away, an eye they we need to pluck out and cast it from us.

Part of the necessary reckoning is learning our history. We like to point out that Joseph Smith was opposed to slavery, and that we ended our racial priesthood restriction in 1978. But did you know that at least a handful of members who moved to Nauvoo, IL, brought their enslaved persons with them, kept in slavery? (Illinois was a free state, but that was a contested position.) Did you know the Utah legislature legalized Black and Native American slavery in 1852, with the support of Brigham Young and Orson Spencer? The 1978 revelation didn’t undo that history. And we need to learn that history, both so that we don’t repeat it and so that we can right the wrongs we committed as an institution and a people.

But part of it is learning how to shut down racism in our midst. There has been a lot of criticism not only of the BYU athletic administration, but of the students sitting near the racist individual, who heard what he yelled and didn’t stop him.

And that criticism is right. His neighbors’ inaction represents a significant moral failing. But it’s a moral failing that can be prevented in the future.

Because responding to racism (or misogyny or other types of abuse and discrimination) isn’t natural and it isn’t intuitive. In fact, their inaction has a name: the “bystander effect.” And a sporting event is the perfect storm for the bystander effect—as counterintuitive as it sounds, the more people present, the less likely it is that any individual will intervene. (That’s not an excuse, of course—the bystander effect isn’t an impenetrable wall.)

How do you counter the bystander effect? Awareness and explicit training. And that bystander awareness training has become increasingly common, among other places, as part of DEI initiatives at colleges and universities.

Would DEI training have prevented the harasser from his racist attacks? I don’t know; he wasn’t a BYU student, so implementing anti-racist training at BYU wouldn’t have dissuaded him. But training the students seated around him in how to respond to racism would have empowered them and given them the skills to respond productively and effectively.

Is that training going to happen? I certainly hope so. But it’s worth noting that Elder Clark Gilbert, the current commissioner of CES, has expressed skepticism over DEI initiatives, conceding that BYU has work to do in being racially inclusive, but that

The DEI programs in the world are not the way BYU should do it. We should find a gospel-centered approach. We should be better than we are now, and we should be a light to the world but not replicating the world.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think anybody in the DEI space would argue that there is a perfect DEI program. And it may be the we can develop a gospel-centered approach that is more effective for church members.

But we don’t have that LDS-specific program yet. We haven’t taught BYU students, Utahns, or, I suspect, members worldwide how to effectively intervene against racism. Too many of us haven’t internalized the evil that racism represents. So yes, let’s keep pushing toward better and better anti-racism training and teaching.

But in the meantime, let’s use the tools that already exist in the world. Let’s ensure that next time someone at BYU yells racial slurs at a Black athlete, the students around them understand the bystander effect, understand how to overcome it, understand the importance of overcoming it, and act to stop that racism. (Also, let’s put that training into our Sunday meetings; let’s teach not only BYU students, but all members of the church, how to be anti-racist.)

It’s not going to magically happen by itself. If anti-racism were easy and intuitive, the BYU students, the BYU coaches, the security at the game, would have stopped the harassment. Let’s not try nothing and be all out of ideas—let’s give ourselves the tools to choose (and do) the right.

Because, as Kristine pointed out yesterday, the status quo is wrong.

[fn1] The next day, BYU announced that it had banned the racist individual from entering BYU sporting venues.


  1. Well said. Thank you for your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more. I do grow weary of the church thinking that every approach should somehow be different than that in the world. In fact, there are a number of programs that get good results. As an institution, we make ourselves look bad by not partnering with our neighbors. This type of exclusivity actually breeds racism and other forms of discrimination because it breeds Mormon exceptionalism. Besides, as you have stated, when someone is a neighbor in Utah but not LDS, what then? Being part of a moral majority does not help either. What you said about helping bystanders is right on the mark, in my opinion. I know of a number of programs that establish Goodwill at the beginning of an intervention related to conflict resolution. Interestingly enough, many of these are found in Headstart programs with young children. We all can benefit!

  2. Agreed. Thank you for your comments. And I agree, somebody should have said or done something more. I remember being at a BYU event when somebody lit a cigarette. Everybody around him had a lot to say, and somebody even produced a water bottle to pour over the smoker. Clearly people are willing to speak up when they think there’s a problem; it’s heart-breaking to see what they think is okay.

  3. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Wow, that’s a powerful example, Cate. Imagine the swift response to someone who was repeatedly shouting a curse/swear word, or who lit up a cigarette, or who showed up with an alcoholic beverage. I am positive, in each of those scenarios, someone would have said something and, if the person didn’t cease the behavior, would have reported them to…someone with some form of authority at the venue. For the record, I think using racist language is worse than each of those things.

  4. When I was a freshman at BYU, 1985, I was in a large class where a student was asked to choose a volunteer. He used eeni meeni mini moe. When we used that growing up (in Tucson), it was “catch a tiger by the toe.” Apparently there is another version which this young man used. The professor immediately grabbed the mic and wouldn’t let him finish and then we had a long discussion about racism. Seems like we are getting worse to me.

  5. Yes and yes, Sam.

    Regarding DEI work, I know race is the issue du jour because of the volleyball game, and if race were all of DEI I suspect Elder Clark Gilbert and BYU more generally would be quicker to use outside DEI initiatives and training. Maybe not instantly, but quicker. I have always assumed the reluctance to use outside DEI programs is that (in my experience, which is regular through my firm) they pay attention to all forms of discrimination. Recall that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was supposed to end segregation in public places and ban employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and protect LBGTQ workers as well, per the Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton Country in 2020. The Church has some work to do regarding race, and more work to do regarding the rest.

  6. your food allergy says:

    BYU and its sponsoring institution just do not take racism seriously enough. We are not sufficiently ashamed of our racist past. No, Brigham Young cannot be excused as a product of his time, he was a morally backward racist even by 1850 standards. Are we serious? Remove BY’s name from the university. Acknowledge the priesthood and temple ban was a racist sin. Work harder to create a diverse university and church community. Academic intiatives, training, etc, etc. Here we are, yet again, behind the moral curve of the nation.

  7. We’ve got a partnership with the NAACP, and they have more than a little experience with this kind of issue and a sensitivity to the religious context. Let’s work with them to address this.

  8. If Elder Gilbert simply means that DEI training ought to point out that anti-racism is a moral imperative rooted in our scripture and beliefs (using, e.g., Jacob 3:9, Rev. 5:9, 2 Ne. 26:13 and 33, etc.), then I agree, because that approach may be more persuasive to church members who are inclined to see DEI as a worldly liberal trend. But I’m worried Elder Gilbert’s comments might indicate he tends to think of it that way himself.

    I also find the attitudes of senior church leaders on this topic disturbing. The church has made no apology for its past racism, because it can’t bring itself to acknowledge that prophets can make mistakes (even though Joseph Smith himself stated so explicitly on several occasions), or at least, not really big mistakes. They worry that to acknowledge such a policy was a grave error would throw into doubt Wilford Woodruff’s claim that a president of the Church will never “lead the church astray,” whatever that means.* But failure to acknowledge the error is alienating large numbers of people in and out of the church who will believe it was wrong regardless of whether the church says so.

    This baggage seems to be preventing us from taking racism seriously. Pornography and other violations of the law of chastity are sins church leadership care a lot about. You can tell, because multiple General Conference talks are dedicated to the subject, in which church leaders relate personal stories of the impact of the sins on individuals and family, define what constitutes the sin, and explain how to seek forgiveness and change.

    Despite not appearing in the scriptures, the terms “pornography,” “fornication,” and even “petting” appear in the Topical Guide. You cannot look up the terms “racism,” “bigotry,” or “discrimination” anywhere in the Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, Index to the Triple Combination, or Guide to the Scriptures. There are entries for “race” and “prejudice,” but they won’t point you to any references that address racism. They point you to OD-1 and Abraham 1:24. And this despite the existence of multiple scriptures on the topic (which I cited above). The inescapable conclusion is that the Church doesn’t think racism is a major sin or a moral issue that needs to be a topic of our scripture study.

    Then there’s Pr. Oaks’s insistence that the Church does not apologize. I find that position hugely damaging to an institution whose entire raison d’etre is to “preach nothing but repentance.” Yet the Church itself can’t lead by example?

    Prophets are vessels for revelation, and they cannot help but filter that revelation through their own thoughts and opinions. They’re human, and they make major decisions only by unanimous consent. Unfortunately, these things are unlikely to change until the old guard has been completely replaced.

    *It means that Wilford Woodruff was trying to shore up support for the Manifesto.

  9. The Utah Jazz have repeatedly had racist hecklers during the past few years. Sam links to a story about the incident in which Ja Morant’s family was targeted. Notice what distinguishes that incident from the one at BYU: the Jazz incident was dealt with immediately, because fans at the game summoned security officials and identified the racists. The bystander effect did not inhibit those Utah fans from addressing the problem. So what is different about BYU? I think the answer to that question is long, but the point is that there is something different about BYU, and it’s not a good difference.

    I wish I could write something hopeful about BYU and racism, but I don’t have it in me today. I’m sure that christiankimball is right about the reasons for Gilbert’s position on DEI initiatives. I doubt that BYU will catch up to everyone else on racism as long as it insists that it is righteous to treat LGBTQ people as a lower caste. The dissonance of that position is too much to sustain. It can’t be lived.

  10. So by “gospel centered”, does Clark Gilbert mean teaching things like, the seed of Abraham are the chosen race, or that wicked, dark skinned Lamanites will become white if they change their ways and accept the gospel, or that men are to preside over women, or that God was the one who didn’t want black people in His temples, but changed his mind in 1978, or. . . ? The church, and by extension BYU, is never going to “root out racism” or other horrible isms until we disavow these and other archaic man-made “gospel truths”. And I say “man”-made” and not people-made because men, not women, have been behind these types of ideas since day one. Isn’t it interesting how we are more willing to say God is a racist, sexist, classist, than we are to admit that leaders have/are the ones who are behind these repulsive ideas?

  11. It’s interesting to me the reasoning by Clark Gilbert that “The DEI programs in the world are not the way BYU should do it. We should find a gospel-centered approach.” Is this why we can’t make progress on anti-racism (and other issues)? The implication is that there is a “worldly” way to do it, and a “gospel” way. Its a myth that the church functions to push back against the world. They just translate the gospel into the world they find themselves in- and that world happens to be a conservative world. And then they push back against the liberal world. Since the liberal world is currently doing the majority of the work to end racism, they have nothing to translate the gospel into and they end up without the tools to address the issue. So how do you get Clark and others to see value in the liberal world view and do the work to translate the gospel into a world view that is completely outside of their experience? This seems to be where we are stuck…

  12. Loursat, gender too. Discrimination based on sex is an important ongoing issue. One the Church is not ready to address.

  13. Yeah, “worldly” in Gilbert’s formulation just means politically left, and “gospel” means politically right. We’ve imported the categories wholesale into LDS life and are just using spiritual-sounding terms for culture war.

  14. The recent BYU study on Racism showed that part of BYU’s problem was a belief among admin staff that all policies had to be administered in a “race blind” fashion, which actually led to demonstrably worse representation and outcomes for minorities. Race-blindness was seen by those espousing the idea as the higher law vs. the lower (liberal/woke) law of affirmative action which they view as special treatment and disempowerment of minorities. Their perspective was just pure, biased conservatism.

    When Kevin Worthlin seemed on the cusp of taking racism seriously and making effective changes, the Church suddenly sent Clark Gilbert down to guide with a heavy (conservative) hand. This current incident is a Clark Gilbert problem to the core. To clarify, he didn’t create it, but he doesn’t want to solve it or even (really) see it as a real problem. After all, the real problem to people like him is being woke or liberal, and any racism is just “a few bad apples.” These are pernicious falsehoods that only the most extremist conservatives like Gilbert believe.

    Aside from that, the other obstacle is that our top leaders largely share this blind spot. Additionally, since the death of Pres. Monson we’ve steered hard into the narrative that leaders must be obeyed without thought or question, which is a recipe for moral cowardice. Nobody has to say or do anything because they have no idea what they think about things until they are told. There is no moral compass other than what they are told. Fortunately, I don’t believe that’s true of all members, but it’s true of enough of them that things like this are going to go unchecked.

  15. christiankimball, that’s an interesting point. I had not considered whether the school’s desire to discriminate based on sex would block a DEI initiative at BYU. It might.

    I don’t know whether BYU students, faculty and staff are becoming as aware of and concerned about gender discrimination at the school as they are about anti-queer discrimination. My sense has been that gender discrimination is not a flash point yet, but I could be wrong. It would not surprise me to see it become sand in BYU’s gears.

    There is high awareness of BYU’s anti-LGBTQ policies because church leaders are spending a lot of time justifying the policies in religious terms, using their religious authority. All that discussion puts the dissonance right in people’s faces; it makes people think in religious terms about whether you can oppose racism while favoring anti-LGBTQ discrimination. It’s very hard to make that argument, and over time it will be harder to maintain that position as the status quo. It’s one thing to keep discriminating while nobody has to think about it. It’s another thing to keep discriminating while you’re constantly forcing people to weigh the moral question.

    Gender discrimination doesn’t have the same salience right now. But I think the time will come.

  16. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    A brief, “Lord is it I?” thought experiment:

    Flash back to whenever your first weekend at college took place. You’ve had two days of orientation, and it’s your first Friday night amongst your fellow freshman peers — nearly all of you unfamiliar with each other, and the majority from out of state. Your first class doesn’t take place until next week.

    This is who comprises 80-90% of the student section at a pre-semester volleyball match. These are the bystanders in this ugly scenario.

    I’d like to think that I would have responded differently. Hopefully the 18 year-old version of you would have done so as well. But, do we have just enough pause to interrupt the baffled head shaking as to how this could have ever happened?

    I have zero refutation of or justification for the fan’s behavior. None.

    I do question how much finger-pointing we should be doing at the institution where a non-student is acting out among a crowd who have been students for something like 72 hours.

    Every sports organization from little league to the pros deals deals semi-successfully with how to handle inappropriate fan behavior while in the flow of competition. Most of the steps look a lot like what BYU did in providing some extra security (and I’m not sure if that dials tension up or down) and removing/banning offenders.

    I’m embarrassed and upset along with the rest of you, and wish it had never happened. These seem like great ideas in the OP, and over some period of time exposure, I think would yield positive downstream results. If we’re to be fair and thoughtful in our recommendations for improvement, I think we need to titrate those steps towards what is indeed controllable, and towards whom is indeed responsible.

  17. As pointed out by Loursat, the Jazz have made progress and are actively working to root out racist fans. They accomplish that by having signage and periodic announcements about appropriate fan behavior, with a phone number people can text to report inappropriate fans. This number is also printed on programs and within the app. Most of these are not directly implemented for a college volleyball game, but with a little creativity we can make it simpler for fans to know how to report this abhorrent behavior and reduce the barriers to positive action.

  18. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    I believe that BYU has the fan reporting number publicized at it’s larger venues (football, basketball) which have programs, video screens and fan apps. Not so for track, tennis, volleyball, swimming, ect.

  19. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    The Utah Jazz response, while not perfect, can be a good road map for BYU. But it’s important to remember that they haven’t done it on their own or come up with the response by themselves. The NBA has driven much of the action and has done so league-wide. The Jazz are part of a larger organization the is now taking this seriously. BYU is part of a larger organization, but that organization has failed to show that it takes this seriously.

  20. Ditto to those who commented that “worldly” seems to mean “liberal” and gospel-centered seems to mean “conservative.”

    While Gilbert has yet to describe his innovative gospel-centered approach to rooting out racism (hey, try the James Jones anti-racism course that DesBook nixed, which is based in scripture), it seems based on materials currently posted on the (so-called) office of inclusion and belonging that the approach is “we are all children of God and that’s what matters more than any other ‘label’.” Looks an awful lot like all lives matter / colorblind, which is a conservative ideology.

  21. lastlemming says:

    The NBA has driven much of the action and has done so league-wide. The Jazz are part of a larger organization the is now taking this seriously. BYU is part of a larger organization, but that organization has failed to show that it takes this seriously.

    Perhaps the Big12 could provide some motivation, if not resources?

  22. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    A clarification to my earlier post, which may have left the door open to justify the surrounding student’s non-response due to their stage in life.

    Even though I think the great majority of the bystanders were in high school a few months ago, and arrived on campus less than a week ago, that still isn’t any excuse to overlook a verbal abuse. Period. And, even if someone lacked the backbone to make an immediate response, I guarantee you that what they can do in a matter of seconds is get out the phone and start recording something like that.

    The fact is that nobody — among thousands of young adults — seems to have any footage at all of an ugly, ugly word that is absolutely off-limits means that it likely wasn’t heard repeatedly and clearly by the bystanders. The Smith Fieldhouse is not a wide open venue where a polite crowds claps after each point like tennis. It has a (charmingly?) archaic design that gets the crowd — especially the students — quite close to the floor, and gets much louder than a typical college volleyball match. They happened to set an attendance record this past weekend.

    I absolutely believe the victim. I think there was a piece of trash who was offensively over the line, and I’m glad he won’t be back. I believe the Duke player repeatedly felt threatened.

    What I dismiss is that there was a community failure as dozens/hundreds/thousands of spectators witnessed the abuse and then sat on their hands and remained silent. That’s a false story that is becoming the media narrative, and we should be careful not to feed into that.

    They were all busy yelling themselves, jumping around and waving their magic fingers at the opposing server to make her it it into the net — and then losing their minds even more when it happened; all of them hopped up on chocolate milk and their first weekend at college. It’s a uniquely fantastic crowd for a college sport that isn’t typically the center of attention. I’ve been reading reports from the student section indicating that through much of the match they had to cup their hands around the ear of the person next to them in order to be heard.

    So again, I absolutely echo support for the community-wide and campus-wide need for diversity inclusion. Events like this accelerate our need to adopt additional measures. But when Tom Holmoe, the AD, says that “we need to do better”, in my eyes he is referencing a group far bigger than those in attendance at the match that night.

  23. it's a series of tubes says:

    One of my children, a new freshman and avid volleyball player and fan, was in attendance. Larry’s points in this thread echo their experience.

  24. If a player heard it on the court, at least a dozen people around the speaker heard it too. That’s too many passive bystanders.

  25. Larry’s points are fine. I don’t believe that nobody else could have heard something that the Duke player heard, but I take the point that it was a chaotic situation. The bottom line remains that there was a serious failure. There are several pieces to this situation, and the failure can’t be written off to any one thing.

    It’s alarming that this kind of thing keeps happening in Utah. If anyone doubts that, go back to Sam’s post to see the many links he gives reporting incidents at professional, college and high school sports events. Among athletes, the state of Utah has a disgraceful reputation for racism. So does BYU. That reputation is based on decades of this stuff. Being honest about that fundamental problem is necessary. This incident at the volleyball game is not just a thing that happened once. It’s part of a long-standing pattern.

    Focusing more narrowly on this incident at BYU, the crowd noise and the inexperienced group of fans are not the most important part of the story. Immediately after it happened, maybe it would have been fair to attribute the failure largely to that confluence of factors in the moment. But not after seeing BYU’s official response to the problem. The leaders of the athletic department and the volleyball team had no idea what to do when the situation blew up. It’s clear that they had not thought about the problem in advance. Their written statements were formulaic and reactive. Holmoe’s speech the next day was not only feeble, it was weird. These leaders simply are not leading.

    BYU’s athletic department has ignored the memo that nearly everyone else in college and professional sports has already received and acted on: Zero tolerance for racism means taking effectual steps to anticipate the problem. When something like this happens, prepared leaders already know how to respond. Prepared leaders also know why to respond appropriately, because they have a clear vision of what they must accomplish in the bigger picture.

    The bigger picture for BYU includes a legacy of racism that most other schools either don’t have or have addressed more effectively than BYU. There is an urgency about this that people inside the BYU bubble don’t seem to understand.

  26. christiankimball says:

    Following comments here and elsewhere, I come back over and over to the need for “anti-racism” and “systemic racism.” From my far left east coast educated point of view, a discussion about foul words thrown at a sporting event and what to do about it assumes unstated agreement that we need to be anti-racist and must constantly address systemic racism. But I’m seeing those terms and phrases rejected as “liberal” concepts by some of my co-religionists. I do understand that adopting anti-racism as a principle of action and acknowledging systemic faults is to call out the Church for its failures, historical and present day.

  27. it's a series of tubes says:

    Loursat, to be clear, I completely agree with every point you make in your last comment.

  28. I don’t know if this adds anything to the discussion, but a little personal confession of of my own experience with racism, sports, and the bystander effect.

    30ish years ago, as a student at BYU, I decided to buy a ticket to a BYU-Utah football game held up at the U. My ticket was somewhere on the BYU/visitor’s side of the stadium, but I don’t think it was in the student section (but some of these details are just gone after 30 years). About the only significant memory I have from that day was one of my fellow BYU fans who started shouting (more than once) something along the lines of “beating the Native Americans.” It made me uncomfortable, but the most memorable part was when my attention was captured by a middle aged Native American several rows in front of me who, obviously, could also hear it. While I’m sure I cannot recall everything, I do recall the pain and anger and irritation and such in his facial expression. Immediately recognizing the inappropriateness of these catcalls, I was frustrated that I did not know what to do or have the courage to do something.

    As I recall, the racial catcalls did not last very long. I don’t recall if this particular fan left the immediate area, if the glares from the offended gentlemen below were noticed and he realized himself that his catcalls were inappropriate and voluntarily stopped, or if someone came and escorted him away. My recollections are pretty much exclusively about the pain and anger on the gentleman’s face and my own feelings of inadequacy and paralyzation. I don’t attend sporting events much these days, but I hope that, put in a situation like that or the one at the volleyball match, I would figure out something to do (call security, at least)

  29. Mark Brown says:

    Consider the following scenarios.

    1. A fan at the volleyball game lights up a cigarette.
    2. A fan at the game screams obscene profanity.
    3. A fan at the game shouts out defamation of Russell M. Nelson.
    4. A fan at the game screams racial slurs and threats.

    The bystander effect is very real, perhaps especially for latter-day saints. We avoid confrontation and we avoid rocking the boat. We learn that it is virtuous to avoid contention. And yet, I can’t imagine a sellout crowd at the Smith Field house tolerating 1 – 3 for longer than a minute or so.

    I’m guessing that many people knew what was going on, and they knew it was wrong, but they were uncomfortable making a scene. We need to take a lesson from John Lewis, and learn to be comfortable getting into good trouble.

  30. Paul Brown says:

    To what extent is our bystander effect affected by our authoritarian religious (and BYU administration) structure? We’re taught not to “steady the Ark,” but rather to await instructions from our File Leaders. At a volleyball match, those who heard the racist shouts would be looking for action, if at all, from someone “presiding.”

  31. I actually just read an article in the Deseret News by a BYU professor who was on the stands at the game. He didn’t hear anything racial being yelled, and especially a racial slur. Likewise, he asked students who were there and none of them heard the supposed racial slur or anything resembling that. The article above stated that you can hear everything in the stadium where the volleyball game took place, yet the only person who hear the slur was a Duke player. I just read a headline from the Salt Lake Tribune stating that BYU security found no evidence of a racial slur being used, even after and investigation. So my question is, why is everyone so quick to jump in the bandwagon when there isn’t actually any evidence of the offense occurring, and in fact, more and more information is coming out that this is turning more into a Jessie Smollett type of situation? Everyone is trigger happy in condemning individuals, groups, organizations, and anything else that gets accused of racism, it’s actually kind of terrifying. No critical thinking or logical thought process required. No I’m investigation needs to be conducted. Someone yells racism! and that’s enough for everyone to get their pitch forks and torches. This is similar to Taliban or Nazi tactics. We don’t need evidence…a simple accusation is good enough. America has lost what makes it unique and different from the rest of the world, and articles like this only contribute to our demise. We need common sense, logic, and critical thinking to make a reappearance, and people need a backbone to stand up for the right thang rather than simply go along with whatever the mob says.

  32. The Duke volleyball player, Rachel Richardson, has done an interview with ESPN in which she elaborates further on what happened. It’s worth seeing. Among other details, she says that the heckling became more extreme and more intense after BYU officials had been told of the problem. That’s not great.

    She is complimentary of the way Tom Holmoe treated her in their private meeting after the incident. She calls him a genuine person who made her feel heard and seen in their conversation. I think that’s good to hear.

    Richardson also says Holmoe told her that there was already internal training in the athletic department on race and equality before the incident. She says that according to Holmoe, coaches and athletes will be able to stop a game until problems are handled. Those things are also good to hear, although I have to question in what ways the training they’ve already done has been effective.

    Richardson comes across as a graceful, direct person. She is only nineteen years old, but her ability to communicate would be exceptional for an adult of any age. Any doubts about her clarity and sincerity should be put to rest by hearing her speak. She is intensely aware of how complicated it is to be a Black person who becomes the target of high-profile racial abuse. A person in that position is held to a ridiculously, unjustly high standard. She must be unfailingly patient, civil and kind in her response to unconscionable treatment. Richardson has thought a lot about that. She was stunned by the abuse, but she was already prepared for the aftermath. Rachel Richardson was far better prepared for it than anyone at BYU.

    I’m glad this incident has put a spotlight on the problem. Having someone as generous as Rachel Richardson speak about it is probably more than BYU deserves. I hope the athletic department uses this as an occasion to make genuine systemic changes. The senior leaders of the university should do the same.

  33. Did the Duke student actually file a police report? If so her actions appear to me to leave her with some legal liability

  34. I just deleted something like five comments arguing or asserting that it must be a hoax, that the Duke volleyball player made it up.

    In the first instance, that’s dumb. BYU not only believes it happened (they apologized for it), but they identified the person who did it and banned him. And the Duke players asked for security, who was stationed by the team’s bench.

    Now being wrong about something clearly isn’t, of itself, enough to delete a comment. Otherwise, the internet would be basically empty. But this kind of conspiracy mindset is bad in a couple ways. One is, it’s accusing a woman of lying about something significant, based on literally nothing other than the intuition that my people couldn’t have done it. And I’m not interested in people defaming (figuratively—I understand it would rise to the level of legal actionable libel) on my post.

    But it also says something about us, something unsavory—rather than engage with racism, rather than working to find a solution, some people would rather deny the problem happened at all, circling wagons against a world that’s against us. I’m also not interested in having that on this post.

    Do you not believe it happened? That’s fine; you can be wrong. But I have first- and second-hand accounts of racism in the church and at BYU. It’s a problem that has existed for a long time and continues to exist. It’s a deep failure on our part, one that no less than at least two of the last three prophets have called us out on. And it’s a problem that we can work to repair. That’s where my interest lies.

  35. Sam, the person they banned was now shown to not have done it according to the Salt Lake Tribune this morning. A UVU student who approached the team after the game and Duke said “that was him”. So, BYU banned him on that accusation. But it objectively wasn’t him.

  36. Sam, I don’t think anyone was saying that it didn’t happen at all. The question is, did it happen in a way that it is reasonable to expect a reaction other than the one that played out. No one is saying Rachel didn’t hear a slur, and if she heard one, it’s reasonable to assume it’s because someone yelled it. But we don’t know if anyone else heard it. We now know that the person who was banned wasn’t the person who hurled the slur, so it’s reasonable—necessary even—to reexamine the facts to determine what should have been done differently, if anything.

  37. “But we don’t know if anyone else heard it.”

    Of course we do! There’s no way that she heard it on the court and no one else heard it. Basic laws of physics.

  38. Sam – my comment was one that you deleted. Honestly, I think your reaction is unwarranted.

    First, just because BYU apologized doesn’t mean it happened. No one wants to be painted with scarlet letter of racism. So facing this claim–absent some proof it is false–of course the organization would apologize. We would expect that.

    Second, linking to the SL Tribe article does not show a conspiracy mindset. That’s not some fringe newspaper. Nor does it mean the woman is lying. She may have misheard what was said. If you don’t think that can’t happen I would encourage you to Google the incident at the Colorado Rockies game and the mascot DInger.

    Third, pointing out what was reported may not have actually occurred does not mean that we don’t think racism exists or that we shouldn’t “engage with racism.” But facts matter and ignoring the SL Trib because it contradict something you “believe” is, well, on you. Honestly, how many racially charged stories go viral that turn out not to be exactly how they were originally portrayed before we exercise a little caution in our reactions (i.e. Bubba Wallace, Jussie Smollett to name to recent examples).

    My whole point in posting the SL Trib article was noting that this story is in flux, and there appears to be much that we do not know.

  39. For those of you asking “Where is the evidence?” From the SBNation website, dated Aug 29, 2022, …

    “When BYU was made aware of the situation, they reportedly placed a police officer between the Duke bench and student section, but didn’t kick the fan or fans out of the arena.”

  40. Sam, the story that originally appeared on Twitter isn’t holding up to scrutiny. There’s audio and video and eyewitness evidence, and it doesn’t support the contention that someone was repeatedly yelling racist slurs from the stands for everyone to hear. What actually happened isn’t clear. Not a huge deal, as misunderstandings happen, and it seems like everyone at BYU said and did the right things when the allegations were brought to their attention. But now that you’ve made your post all about the crowd’s complicity in racism for failing to act, honesty requires you to deal with the shifting facts.

  41. your food allergy says:

    You mean the reputation that our university’s name honors a man who taught that the penalty for racial intermarriage should be “death on the spot?” We don’t want that reputation back.

  42. @ Jo Mamma: “The drive-by attackers should be ashamed of their rush to judgement and harsh accusations. But they’re silent and seem to have already moved on.”

    I’ll bite. If the incident turns out to be fabricated, then that is very sad. I am personally internalizing my initial response and pledge to do better.

    And, I would ask you to re-read Sam’s article, including the links to several racial incidents that have occurred in Utah sports in the recent past. It wasn’t difficult to think this could happen at BYU given these other incidents in the community. Our faith community has work to do.

  43. William Dixon says:

    Now that there is a lot of evidence that nothing happened, do the fans that were excoriated get a pass?

  44. William Dixon says:

    No BYU fans heard the racist language. No cell phone recordings caught the racist language. All of the various official video feeds didn’t catch racist language. BYU sent a police officer to investigate. He didn’t hear racist language. The ushers that were sent to investigate it didn’t hear it.

    BYU worked diligently to investigate any bad actions by fans and moved stop it, and it appears that the BYU students were not complicit.

    BYU can obviously improve on race issues, but this is not an example of BYU failing. Tom Holmoe fell on the sword for BYU. BYU moved to make amends despite the fact it appears it did everything right.

    All the criticism on BYU based on this volleyball game is misplaced.

  45. We don’t have evidence that nothing happened. We just have people whose testimony conflicts with the apparent victim’s.

  46. I just deleted a bunch of comments. Some were racist, some weren’t, and I may have been overinclusive in my deleting. But I don’t have time to moderate this post.

    To be clear: a Duke volleyball player says she faced significant racist invective. BYU’s investigation hasn’t found any evidence that that happened. And I sincerely hope BYU’s investigation is correct—I hope that no student or fan at the BYU game yelled evil slurs at her.

    That said, if you read my post, I’m not accusing anybody (except the racist slur-yeller, assuming there was one)(and all of the people in the various incidents I linked to) of being evil, immoral, or even racist. I’m suggesting that there is a reason that people don’t jump in to help others. It’s not a religiously-grounded reason. It’s not specific to Mormons or Utahns. (Also, I’d probably not kid myself that I’d be the exception to that—evidence suggests that people overestimate the likelihood that they wouldn’t be stopped by the bystander effect.)

    And it can be overcome by training. Whether or not this happened (and again, I sincerely hope it didn’t), BYU students and church members (and society in general) would benefit from learning how to confront and shut down discriminatory statements and actions in an effective way.

    That said, I sincerely don’t have time to monitor this post and delete the drive-by commenters (and again, not everybody I deleted was drive-by or trolling—I gave about 2 seconds’ consideration before hitting delete). So I’m closing comments on this post.


  1. […] When I was a kid in Primary, we used to sing songs like “Dare to do right” and “Choose the right, let the consequence follow.” I never hear those anymore, but you know what I hear almost every week? “Follow the prophet.” When you abdicate all your moral reasoning to authority, this is what you get. Morally flaccid bystanders. […]

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