JESSE SINGAL: How the Media Fell for A Racism Sham.
Last month, Rachel Richardson—the only black starter on the women’s volleyball team at Duke University—leveled a shocking accusation. She said that during her team’s August 26 match against Brigham Young University, fans inside the BYU arena in Provo, Utah inundated her with racist abuse and threats.
After the match, 19-year-old Richardson told her godmother, Lesa Pamplin, about the incident. Pamplin is a criminal defense attorney running for a county judgeship in Texas, and was not at the game—but the next day, she published a tweet that rocketed the story to national attention: “My Goddaughter is the only black starter for Dukes [sic] volleyball team. While playing yesterday, she was called a [n-word] 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 tweet is no longer available, but it racked up 185,000 likes before it was archived. LeBron James himself responded: “you tell your Goddaughter to stand tall, be proud and continue to be BLACK!!! We are a brotherhood and sisterhood! We have her back. This is not sports.”
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Unsurprisingly, major media outlets were all over this story. The Times’ coverage set the tone, with the Washington Post and CNN and Sports Illustrated and NPR all publishing similar articles, alongside the predictable think pieces. The incident also had consequences for BYU sports more generally. The head coach of women’s basketball at the University of South Carolina canceled its home opener against BYU. A match between Duke and Rider University’s women’s volleyball teams—scheduled to be played at the BYU arena—was moved to a nearby high school gym in order to provide both teams “the safest atmosphere,” according to Duke’s Director of Athletics, Nina King.
For millions of people watching this story unfold, this was yet another example of the ineradicable stain of American racism, of just how little progress we’ve really made.
Except it didn’t happen.
There is no evidence that the chain of events described by Richardson and her family members occurred. There isn’t even evidence a single slur was hurled at her and her teammates, let alone a terrifying onslaught of them.
All the journalists who credulously reported on this event were wrong—and it was an embarrassing kind of wrong, because the red flags were large, numerous, and flapping loudly. Richardson and her family members reported that racial slurs had been hurled with abandon, loudly and repeatedly, in a crowded gym filled with more than 5,000 people. But the journalists covering this incident never stopped to notice how odd it was that none of these vile slurs were captured by any of the thousands of little handheld cameras in the gym at the time, nor on the bigger cameras recording the match. Nor did they find it strange that in the days following the incident, not a single other eyewitness came forward—none of Richardson’s black teammates, and none of the players for either team.
Read the whole thing. As Roger Kimball wrote when Jussie Smollett’s story broke in 2019, “The less hate there is in the United States, the more hate crimes must be manufactured in order to keep the Fraternal Order of Victims afloat.”