How A Small, Conservative Campus Paper Did A Better Job Covering The BYU Volleyball Incident Than “The New York Times”
Another strike against “moral clarity” in journalism
On August 27, The New York Times ran an article by reporter Vimal Patel headlined “Racial Slur During College Volleyball Game Leads to Fan Suspension.” The end of the story notes that “McKenna Oxenden contributed reporting, and Jack Begg contributed research,” so three Times staffers worked on the piece in total.
It has… not aged well.
The article starts as follows: “A Duke University women’s volleyball player who is Black was called a racial slur during a game Friday night in Utah, prompting Brigham Young University to ban a fan from sporting events and Duke University to change the venue of a tournament game on Saturday.”
It subsequently came out that the player in question is Rachel Richardson, a sophomore and the team’s only black starter. As NPR notes, “[T]he incident gained attention from a Twitter post by Lesa Pamplin, a Texas-based attorney and Richardson’s godmother, who said Richardson was called a slur ‘every time she served.’” That’s from a tweet that is no longer available, since Pamplin’s entire account was nuked (it used to live here), but as captured by NPR it read: “My Goddaughter is the only black starter for Duke’s volleyball team. While playing yesterday, she was called a nigger every time she served. She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus. A police officer had to be put by their bench.”
The Times painted a portrait of a genuinely terrifying situation that felt like it could devolve into a full-blown race riot. Patel writes that “Marvin Richardson, the father of the Duke volleyball player, said in an interview late Saturday that a slur was repeatedly yelled from the stands as his daughter was serving, making her fear ‘the raucous crowd’ could grow violent.”
Later in the piece:
Mr. Richardson said he instructed his daughter that if she faced a similar situation in the future she should immediately make sure an authority figure was aware. But his daughter, who is 19, told him that she was scared of the crowd and that the safest course would be to keep her head down and continue playing.
She didn’t only “feel the ping of the slurs but also fear of the crowd,” he said. “Because as the crowd got more hyped and the epithets kept coming, she wanted to respond back but she told me she was afraid that, if she did, the raucous crowd could very well turn into a mob mentality.”
Just about every major outlet carried this story, and it kicked off a hasty promulgation of think pieces. There were consequences for BYU athletics, too: The University of South Carolina women’s basketball team canceled a home-and-home series it had scheduled with BYU in protest.
The problem is, it’s now been a week and a half and no evidence has been uncovered that anyone actually called Richardson a racial slur.