BYU fans cheer prior to the NCAA national women’s soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
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PROVO — Another claim of racial abuse has put a target on fans of Brigham Young University.
Five women’s soccer players contacted British newspaper The Guardian last week claiming they heard racial slurs being directed at them and their teammates from the crowd during a women’s soccer game during the 2021 season.
The players had knelt for the national anthem to protest racial and social injustice when they said they heard the shouts from the crowd, the newspaper reported.
“I felt disappointed that there was, like, a consistent chant of ‘stand up, N-words’ during the anthem and right after,” one player said, according to the publication. “And when brought to the attention of the BYU coaching staff there was no real response or sense of, like, alarm.”
Neither the newspaper nor the university revealed the names or school of the players who spoke of the incident.
BYU associate athletic director for communications and media strategy Jon McBride told KSL.com that the first time university officials heard of the specific concern was from the Guardian’s inquiry, adding that the concern was handled by the coaching staff when a visiting coach brought it up during the match.
“The night of the match, which occurred over a year ago, BYU responded to a concern from a visiting coach about fan reaction when the visiting players knelt during the national anthem,” McBride said, making few changes to a similar statement released to the Guardian. “A public announcement, similar to one made earlier, reminding fans to be respectful was repeated, and the game proceeded. We are not aware of any additional concerns being brought up during the game or any time thereafter.
“Additionally, as we have stated, BYU will not tolerate racism in any form.”
McBride could not confirm a report from USA Today saying that the University of Southern California was the team that alleged the slur was used. But several players, as well as sources granted anonymity by the outlet, told the national newspaper that the Trojans revealed the encounter to match officials and the BYU coaching staff in the moment.
Hannah White, a senior forward who took a knee at BYU, said she didn’t hear fans use a racial slur but that “four of her teammates told her they did,” according to USA Today. Other players told USA Today they heard “stand up!” from BYU fans in the crowd, and others heard booing at the players who knelt.
“I know it was definitely said,” White said. “I just didn’t hear it. I think when multiple teammates come up and they’re talking about it, I don’t think they would make that up.”
Video of the match, which was carried by BYUtv and featured the Trojans wearing T-shirts that read “Black Lives Still Matter” during pregame warmups, shows all of the USC starters kneeling during the national anthem. No slur can be heard over the broadcast, though USC defender Isabel Rolley walked to the sideline to speak with then-head coach Keidane McAlpine after the anthem. The coach then approaches BYU’s Jennifer Rockwood moments later, who goes to the media standard to say something.
BYU won the match 2-1 to avenge a 4-3 overtime loss the year prior in Los Angeles. The match in Provo was played in front of an above-average sized crowd of 5,347 fans, similar to the record-setting crowd of 5,507 spectators that watched a women’s volleyball match against Duke when additional allegations were presented by a Black member of the Blue Devils’ starting lineup.
McAlpine, who is also Black, asked his players if they wanted to cancel the match at the time, but none did, according to USA Today. The former Trojans boss was hired as the head coach at the University of Georgia in Dec. 2021 after guiding USC to eight consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
The allegations follow an incident from a Duke women’s volleyball player in August who said she was subjected to racial slurs during a match at BYU, and that neither BYU administrators nor match officials reacted quickly enough when the abuse was first reported.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe took responsibility for the alleged incident the next night, calling up fans in attendance before a match against Washington State to treat the team’s opponents with respect and call out any forms of racism, homophobia or intolerance that they hear.
“I ask that everyone at all of our games … that you have the courage to take a stand and be able to take care of each other and more importantly, our guests,” Holmoe said. “Cheer as loud as you can, but do not cross the line where you can hurt or harm.”
In subsequent athletic contests, the Cougars have expanded on their use of a fan code of conduct read before each event, including emphasizing language to report any language or gestures deemed offensive to game and university staff as soon as they observe it.
That code of conduct read over the public-address system also included a denouncement of racial, homophobic or otherwise discriminatory slurs, as well as political motives and campaign slogans in an address read before Wednesday night’s soccer match between the Cougars and San Francisco.
BYU conducted a lengthy investigation into the Duke volleyball match and announced it could not find video or audio recordings that substantiated the claims. An unidentified fan, who was not a BYU student, was banned from the Smith Fieldhouse upon request from Duke but had the ban rescinded upon the completion of the investigation.
“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,” BYU said in a statement following the investigation of the incident. “As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe. That is the reason for our immediate response and our thorough investigation.”
West Coast Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez told USA Today that she was aware of the allegations after BYU notified the league the day before the Guardian published its account.
“BYU is currently looking into the matter with the same level as the prior incident,” Nevarez said. “We’ve not yet gotten to the point of understanding what next steps should be as information is still coming in.”
The conference released a statement following the Aug. 26 volleyball match, saying that “racist remarks are inappropriate, hurtful and unacceptable.”
“Upon review of the information received, we believe the institution implemented the appropriate game management protocols during the match and has since taken the appropriate actions to thoroughly investigate this incident,” the statement read, in part. “We also believe BYU has adopted appropriate measures and policies to help avoid future incidents”