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CNN reporter John Avlon gave the sports media and his own network, CNN, a scathing review for their knee-jerk reactions to the Brigham Young University racist slur story involving Duke’s Rachel Richardson.
Avlon’s take sounded a bit like a journalism 101 class: chastising the media to wait for facts on these volatile stories rather than fueling outrage over unknown details.
“Healthy skepticism is always a virtue, but this doesn’t read like a cover-up. Instead, it feels like there was a rush to judgment because of a well-intentioned impulse to believe the Duke player’s accusations,” Avlon said on his Upon Further Review segment.
Since the match (Aug. 26) took place in Provo, Utah, an investigation was launched to determine if a non-student BYU fan shouted the N-word and berated Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson, against little evidence.
Media outlets and celebrities continued to support the racism angle and shut down any examination of the facts as racist.
Avlon called out the outlets that championed Richardson’s victimhood and even included CNN as a supporter of the knee-jerk narrative. Which it was, during both its daytime and primetime programming.
“Fidelity to the facts is all that we as journalists and citizens should ask,” Avlon added. “It’s understandable that there’s a desire to believe people when they say they’ve been victimized, but the accusations have to be backed up by facts and when the facts don’t fit upon further review, we need to set the record straight with as much intensity as the initial reports.”
After BYU completed its nearly two-week investigation, the school confirmed that a racial slur was not shouted at Richardson, and reversed a lifetime ban with an apology to the unidentified heckler. The school interviewed more than 50 witnesses, including those from Duke. Not a single person corroborated Richardson’s allegations.
By then, the sports and news media had put so much stock into its anti-racism angle that they shut down coverage once Richardson’s story was debunked.
Prior to the results of the investigation, USA Today’s Mike Freeman published a piece defending Richardson and called OutKick founder Clay Travis a “right-wing conspiracy theorist” for being one of the few sports media figures to ask relevant questions about Richardson’s allegations. After the investigation showed those questions to be spot on, Freeman tweeted that he doubted the results.
What Freeman and the rest of the media ignored was the evidence behind Clay’s take, including on-the-ground testimonies from fans in attendance, provided by The Cougar Chronicle.
Several attendees at the game stated that a slur was not shouted and that a heckler was removed solely for interrupting play. Additional police statements noted that no racial slur was heard and that the adult male escorted out of the venue was “mentally challenged.”
BYU’s initial reaction, seemingly accepting Richardson’s accusations as fact, probably contributed to some of the early condemnations.
Despite announcing the ban, releasing apologetic statements, nixing the student section at Smith Fieldhouse for a volleyball tournament, and meeting with Richardson to talk about the incident, BYU never provided information on the banned heckler’s identity or what he allegedly did to get the punishment.
Rachel Richardson’s Godmother Played A Role
Richardson’s godmother Lesa Pamplin, a circuit court judge candidate running in Fort Worth, Texas, showcased a history of racist rhetoric, which worked against her initial account of Richardson’s encounter with the BYU fan, where she explicitly used the N-word and painted the BYU community as racist.
“My Goddaughter is the only Black starter for Dukes volleyball team,” Pamplin posted on Twitter. “While playing yesterday, she was called a n****r 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.”
Pamplin was not in attendance at the game.
All along, the media failed to present the facts. And while the case seems closed between Richardson and BYU, the lunacy it created led to some long-lasting effects.
South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley canceled a home-and-home series against BYU, expressing that her “selfish” decision was made to protect her players from potential acts of racism at BYU.
Staley also claimed to have conducted her own ”personal research” of the Richardson story and that her findings (and conversations with unnamed sources) validated her concerns. Staley has given no details of her findings.
OutKick reached out to Staley and South Carolina for comment on the decision in light of the BYU investigation and has not received a response.