Brigham Young University said Friday that it had completed its investigation into accusations of racial heckling and slurs at a volleyball match against Duke University last month and found no evidence to confirm that the behavior took place.
At the match on Aug. 26, a Black player for Duke University’s women’s volleyball team said she and her African American teammates had been heckled over their race. A record crowd of more than 5,500 people was in the stands for the match at the university’s arena in Provo, Utah.
On the night of the match, B.Y.U. said a person who had been sitting in its fan section would be banned from all of the Cougars’ sporting events but later told The Salt Lake Tribune that it had not found evidence that the unidentified spectator was responsible for shouted slurs. The university’s associate athletic director, Jon McBride, said on Tuesday that the investigation was ongoing.
In a statement provided by McBride on Friday, the school said the investigation was complete.
“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,” the statement said. “As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe.”
The Duke player’s father, Marvin Richardson, told The New York Times after the game that a slur was repeatedly yelled from the stands as his daughter, Rachel Richardson, was serving and that she feared the “raucous” crowd. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment on B.Y.U.’s findings on Friday.
Two days after the game, Richardson, a sophomore, said in a statement posted on Twitter that she and her African American teammates were “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match.”
“The slurs and comments grew into threats which caused us to feel unsafe,” she said. “Both the officials and B.Y.U. 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.”
Duke University said in a statement on Friday that it stood by its volleyball players.
B.Y.U. did not directly address why its findings contradicted the account by Richardson, and the statements by both universities left questions unanswered. As part of the investigation, B.Y.U. said it had reviewed security footage and footage taken by the school’s television channel with broadcasting audio removed to hear noise from the stands more clearly.
The school said it had also contacted more than 50 people who attended the event, including athletes and staff for both Duke and B.Y.U., event security and management officials and “many of the fans in the on-court student section.” It was not clear how many had actually been interviewed.
“Despite being unable to find supporting evidence of racial slurs in the many recordings and interviews,” the school’s statement said, “we hope that all those involved will understand our sincere efforts to ensure that all student-athletes competing at B.Y.U. feel safe,.”
B.Y.U. said it would no longer bar attendance by the fan who was first identified by Duke’s Blue Devils as having used racial slurs during the match because no evidence could be found that the person actually used them. “B.Y.U. sincerely apologizes to that fan for any hardship the ban has caused,” the statement said.
In the statement from Duke, Nina King, the university’s vice president and director of athletics, said that the school stood by the women’s volleyball team, but she did not address the university’s role in the investigation or who might have been interviewed by B.Y.U.
“The 18 members of the Duke University volleyball team are exceptionally strong women who represent themselves, their families and Duke University with the utmost integrity,” King said. “We unequivocally stand with and champion them, especially when their character is called into question. Duke Athletics believes in respect, equality and inclusiveness, and we do not tolerate hate and bias.”
After the allegations were made during the game, a police officer was placed on Duke’s bench for the remainder of the match. Duke also changed the venue of a later tournament game from B.Y.U.’S George Albert Smith Fieldhouse to a location in Provo, Utah, in an effort to create a safer atmosphere for both teams.
Later that week, Dawn Staley, the coach of the University of South Carolina’s women’s basketball team, said she was canceling scheduled games against B.Y.U. this season, including the season opener on Nov. 7, because of the behavior described at the volleyball game.
“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley, who in April became the first Black person to win two N.C.A.A. championships as a head coach, said in a statement the week after the game. It was not immediately clear on Friday what effect the investigation’s finding would have on her plan.
B.Y.U. is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The student population is predominantly white and Mormon. Less than one percent of students are Black. The school has struggled with creating an inclusive environment for its students of color, according to a February 2021 report by a university committee that studied race on campus.
Alan Blinder contributed reporting.