Last November, before Maryland volleyball’s match against Nebraska, Rainelle Jones knelt during the national anthem, only to be showered with remarks including, “Stand up, you piece of trash,” from disapproving Cornhusker fans.
The middle blocker and the rest of the team completed the match — and the season — without another reported incident, as Jones and two other Maryland players continued to kneel during the anthem before each game to peacefully protest social injustice.
However, Jones received a painful reminder of that episode last week, when Duke’s Rachel Richardson alleged that a BYU fan directed racist language toward her during a road match.
Jones and the rest of the Terps responded with full-throated support for Richardson.
“I’m actually way more hurt than I was last year,” Jones said. “I feel like because I knew Rachel and I’ve been in that position before, and the verbal abuse was way harsher than mine was.”
Maryland coach Adam Hughes said his team first learned of what reportedly happened through social media while warming up before their match against FGCU Saturday.
“I was actually talking to Rainelle about it to see if anyone had heard any more,” he said. “When that kind of thing happens, obviously you’re a little bit shook right out of the gate.”
The Terps fell to the Eagles that evening, but their minds remained fixated on what had happened in Provo, Utah, the previous night. What was supposed to be a thrilling opening weekend in college volleyball had been marred by a situation all too familiar to the Terps.
Richardson trained in College Park with some Terps — making the incident particularly jarring for the team.
She also knows Hughes, who coached Richardson when she played youth club volleyball, and Jones personally. Both reached out to Richardson after the game.
Jones encouraged Richardson to post a statement on Twitter reflecting on what happened. Richardson’s statement garnered considerable support, amassing more than 28,000 likes and 5,500 retweets since it was posted on Aug. 28.
“I told her that she should write it because that’s her voice,” Jones said. “We don’t want her voice to be silenced or changed at all.”
— rachel ♡ (@rachrich03) August 28, 2022
Richardson said the heckling she and teammates heard “grew into threats” and made them feel unsafe. She called the alleged incident an opportunity to examine cultures that “tolerate amoral racist acts … and change them for the better.”
“It is not enough to indicate that you are not racist,” she said in the Twitter post. “Instead you must demonstrate that you are anti-racist.”
Hughes praised his former player for how she handled the situation.
“It’s unfortunate that she was forced into this position to be kind of a leader, but I’m impressed at how well Rachel has handled that, and that’s why I want to show her the support,” Hughes said. “It’s a great guiding light for us.”
The Terps discussed the matter as a team to create an open space and further evoke a sense of trust within the program.
The team showed its support for Richardson by donning black shirts — many of them reading “EQUALITY,” “UNITY” and “RESPECT” across the front — in a photo tweeted Aug 30.
“It was obviously a terrible situation,” Hughes said. “I knew that in Rainelle’s experience, it’s overwhelming, and you’re not really sure where to go … But I just wanted [Richardson] to know that we were thinking of her, we were supporting her from afar.”
The incident inspired the team to hold conversations about social justice, demonstrating solidarity and advocating for change.
Jones, a vocal leader in the Maryland locker room, has been at the forefront of educating and supporting her teammates. Hughes praised her for “seizing the moment” from last year.
Players Maddie Naumann, Laila Ricks and Milan Gomillion also drew praise from Hughes and Jones for their leadership.
As Maryland prepares for the Stony Brook tournament this weekend, Jones said the Terps plan to continue demonstrating against social injustice.
“We’re not going to be, I guess, nice about it,” she said. “We’re going to be very subtle and very in solitude about what we’re going to do.”
While Jones admitted her fear of a similar outburst occurring again, she emphasized the importance of standing tall in the face of potential backlash.
“You never know when it’s gonna happen. That’s the biggest scary thing … and when it does happen, you’re a little shocked,” she said. “How you handle yourself and also the people around you handling themselves, that’s the biggest say of if the future is going to change or not.”
Hughes and Jones emphasized the need to not only initiate conversations on social justice, but to sustain them.
“Every conversation helps, reading every article, every learning experience that we have is super important,” Jones said. “And us teaching the youth and also teaching the older generation that we can all change no matter what … being open to listening to others is a big thing.”