It’s something you may not have noticed. It’s like QAnon. Or mass voter fraud. It’s another conspiracy theory. This one? That Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson, who said she was called multiple racial slurs while playing in a game at BYU, made the entire thing up.
My email inbox has been overwhelmed with this conspiracy theory. It’s grown across social media. The right wing has spent extensive time promoting it.
But before I break down the absurdity of it all, I want to go to a moment after that game. It happened on CNN when Richardson’s father, Marvin, was interviewed by host Brianna Keilar. This moment has mostly gone under the radar, but it’s important.
You can see the interview here. Marvin Richardson describes getting a phone call from his daughter, who was crying. Something was wrong.
“After the game, she called,” he said, “and this was a different call.”
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She went on to describe to her father what happened. The moment is helpful because it’s contemporaneous. It shows Rachel’s mindset immediately afterward. That moment also leads to three different points:
1. Say, just for argument’s sake, that Rachel Richardson made up this story. You have to believe that she did knowing she was putting not just her volleyball future at risk but her college future as a student at Duke. She’d be forever tarnished as a liar. One of the worst liars.
2. You have to believe she then lied to her dad. Which is possible. Kids lie to their parents, but about this? But also…
3. You’d have to believe she would then let her father go on CNN and repeat that lie.
What the conspiracy theories essentially all come down to is one thing: no one heard Richardson being called the slur. The belief, suddenly, is that microphones pick up every word in the arena or student section. Or that cameras are all-seeing and knowing, like mini one-eyed gods.
The thing about this story, this incredible story that I knew would take the direction of “she’s lying” but am still shocked it did, is that I believe Rachel Richardson. I don’t believe anyone prematurely backed her. I don’t think she’s lying. I think she’s telling the truth.
If I’m proven wrong, I’ll be first in line to say so, and write that, but I’ve seen nothing to show she made it up.
You know who else believes her? South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, who canceled her program’s series against BYU. Staley believes her or she wouldn’t put her reputation, or that of her program, on the line.
In many ways, this story is about race and how Black people have to constantly prove we’re not criminals or liars. That we don’t commit mass voter fraud. Or that we get jobs only because of affirmative action. We have to prove, as Richardson does, that we heard what we heard. That we saw what we saw.
To many of these people, Richardson’s word doesn’t mean anything. She automatically cannot be trusted.
Yet this story is remarkable for another reason. Most of the people calling Richardson a liar are from the right-wing media ecosystem or have MAGA in their Twitter bios.
These are the same people who for five years ignored facts. They believe that Hollywood liberals eat babies. Or the Parkland students were crisis actors. Or that JFK is alive. Or is it RFK? Something or someone with a “K” in it. They ignored the 30,000 lies told by the man they worship. They believed the Russia investigation was a hoax. That COVID was. That global warming is.
But suddenly, they are now fact-hunters, combing over audio and video, searching for truth when before, the truth never mattered. These are the people calling Richardson a liar. These are the people focusing their Scooby Doo forensic powers on a 19-year-old Black volleyball player who told a credible story of racial abuse.
Some of the same people who constantly traffic in conspiracy theories predictably jumped on this story. Right-wing extremist Clay Travis said the story of a 10-year-old rape victim was a lie. It turned out to be true, of course. He and others are now back to shovel more of the same.
The other conspiracy theory is that she misheard the word. That is a word you don’t mishear. You certainly don’t mishear it more than once.
These people also ignore BYU’s own past. We could go back decades or even to its origins but a report from BYU itself last year said students of color felt isolated and unsafe.
All of this and we haven’t even gotten into what happens in the rest of the state of Utah. A 10-year-old Black girl died by suicide last year after bullying. In a separate situation, the Justice Department detailed a horrific pattern of racist abuse where Black and Asian students at a school district in Farmington were harassed for years, and the complaints of parents and students were ignored.
The University of Utah said it received complaints of racism on its campus. On Aug. 16, a Black faculty member said he was called the N-word while waiting for a train to leave the school.
Multiple Utah Jazz fans were banned indefinitely last year after making racist and vulgar comments toward the family of Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.
My guess is BYU will clear BYU of wrongdoing. They will bury this story because they have a vested interest in it not being true.
Then the right wing will call it all a hoax. Again. They will call her Jussie Smollett 2.0. In fact, some already are calling her that. The same people who watched the Jan. 6 insurrection, the most documented riot in American history, and believe the rioters were antifa, will now see the absence of microphones picking up the word as proof it was never used.
And none of her accusers will have an answer to the most important question of all:
Why would she make it up? Why would a sophomore majoring in neuroscience at Duke make it up?
Go back to that night. Richardson said she heard racial abuse. She and teammates went to the Duke coaches. Police were moved near the Duke bench. BYU coaches were made aware. That night, after the game, she called her father to tell him what happened. Soon after, she put out a statement. She then went on ESPN to say the same thing.
So at this point, according to the conspiracy theorists, she’s lied to her teammates. Her coaches. The BYU coaches. The BYU athletic director. The police. Her godmother. Her father. The world because of her statement. ESPN. Then allowed her father to lie to a CNN audience.
What’s more likely? All of that?
Or that she’s telling the truth?