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Volleys from the stands

SPORTS | After defending against an accusation of bigotry, a Mormon school falls victim to it

Duke University’s Rachel Richardson bumps the ball during a Blue Devils game against East Tennessee State University. Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer/AP

Volleys from the stands
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First, Brigham Young University found itself accused of permitting bigotry. Then, athletes representing the school became targets of it—albeit of a different variety. Through it all, the Utah-based flagship university of the Mormon ­religion became the unwitting star of a drama illustrating the unintended consequences that may arise in either circumstance.

At BYU’s Sept. 17 football game against host University of Oregon, fans in the Ducks’ student section chanted, “[Obscenity] the Mormons!” Video of the incident landed on Twitter, and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox retweeted it, adding his own take: “Religious bigotry alive and celebrated in Oregon.”

Oregon’s student section, the Pit Crew, and the university itself issued apologies for the incident—an ironic reversal in a story that really began in late summer.

In August, BYU hosted a women’s volleyball match against Duke University. Rachel Richardson, Duke’s only black starter, claimed after the match that a fan had taunted her with racial slurs whenever she attempted to serve the ball in front of BYU’s student section. More than 80 percent of BYU’s student body is white, according to the College Factual website.

Cougars athletic director Tom Holmoe apologized to Richardson after the match, and BYU banned the supposed perpetrator—who apparently was not a BYU student—from attending sports events on campus afterward. However, in the ensuing weeks, evidence emerged challenging Richardson’s claim: Photos showed black BYU basketball players sitting near the student section and smiling—something they presumably wouldn’t be doing if they’d heard racial epithets, even ones hurled at a visiting athlete. Also, video of the match showed just two instances when Richardson served in front of the student section: The banned fan wasn’t there in the first and was on his phone during the second.

Eventually, following a thorough investigation, BYU said it found no evidence of taunting, and the school allowed the banned fan to resume attending games. Even so, not only did left-leaning media outlets roast BYU over the incident, Richardson’s accusation cost the university two women’s basketball games against a high-profile opponent. Dawn Staley, the coach of reigning NCAA champion South Carolina, canceled a home-and-home series against the Cougars “for the well-being of my team.”

In Oregon, the fans who derided the Mormons likely failed to consider that Oregon’s star linebacker, Noah Sewell, is a Mormon. So is a potential recruit who attended the game that day: T.C. Manumaleuna, a highly touted high school quarterback from Salem, Ore., whom the Ducks offered a scholarship before he even entered high school. He left early with his family after his father heard the chants.

Other schools, including Florida State, Miami, and Louisville, are recruiting Manumaleuna as well.

“I would never cross the Ducks off my list,” Manumaleuna told the Salem Statesman Journal. “I play football today because I was raised going to Duck games, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have some kind of impact on me.”

On Twitter, he added, “I think I know what hate feels like now.”

Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD who has covered sports professionally for three decades. He is also a licensed attorney who lives in Keizer, Ore., with his wife Pauline and daughter Ava.



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