Utah women’s basketball team moves hotels after racist incidents

Utah women’s basketball team moves hotels after racist incidents
Utah women’s basketball team moves hotels after racist incidents

Utah coach Lynn Roberts said her team experienced a spate of racial hate crimes last week after arriving at its first NCAA Tournament hotel and being forced to change hotels for safety reasons.

Roberts did not elaborate, but said Monday that there were several incidents that occurred last Thursday night after the team arrived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which is about 30 miles from Spokane, Washington, where The Utes were scheduled to play on the tournament’s opening weekend.

KSL.com reported early Tuesday that the N-word was yelled at members of the Utah basketball team, along with other members of the traveling group — including cheerleaders and the school’s marching band — repeatedly as they walked to and from a restaurant near their hotel in Coeur d’Alene.

Utah associate athletic director Charmelle Green, who is black, told KSL.com the first incident happened as the team was walking from the hotel to the restaurant. An unidentified person in a white truck revved the car’s engine near the team before yelling the N-word in the team’s direction and driving off.

“We were all in shock and looked at each other like did we hear that? … Everyone was in shock — our cheerleaders, our students that were in that area that heard it clearly, they were just frozen,” Green told KSL.com. «We kept walking just shaking our heads like I can’t believe it.»

Green told KSL.com that a similar incident happened about two hours later as the team was leaving the restaurant. Green said two trucks parked near the team started revving their engines before the people in the vehicles shouted the N-word in their direction again.

KSL.com reported that Utah filed a police report. Roberts said the incidents were «shocking» and «incredibly upsetting for all of us,» saying the team was not exposed to racism very often because of the diversity of the college’s student body.

«Racism is real and it happens, and it’s terrible,» Roberts said after fifth-seeded Utah lost Monday to fourth-seeded Gonzaga in the tournament’s second round. «For our players, whether they’re white, black, green, whatever – nobody knew how to deal with it and it was really upsetting. For our players and staff to not feel safe in an NCAA Tournament environment, it’s confusing.”

Green told KSL.com that after the team returned safely to the hotel Thursday night, she «became emotional and started crying.»

«I’ll never forget the sound I heard, the fear of the noise that came from that engine and the (N-word) word,» Green said. «I go to bed and hear it every night since I’ve been here.»

Roberts said the NCAA and Gonzaga worked to move her team after the opening night in Coeur d’Alene. South Dakota State and UC Irvine also stayed in hotels in Idaho, even with Gonzaga as the host school, due to a lack of hotel space in the Spokane area.

A few years ago, Spokane was announced as the host of the first and second rounds of the men’s NCAA tournament, and there was also a major youth volleyball regional tournament that weekend. With limited hotel space, Gonzaga received a waiver from the NCAA to allow teams to be housed in Coeur d’Alene.

Green said she contacted Utah AD Mark Harlan, who has not yet traveled to join the team, after the incidents that occurred Thursday night. Harlan told KSL.com that the incident was «upsetting» and that the team «shouldn’t have been» in Coeur d’Alene.

Far-right extremists have established a presence in the Spokane area and North Idaho. In 2018, at least nine hate groups operated in the region, including Identity Evropa, Proud Boys, ACT for America and America’s Promise Ministries, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

«We shouldn’t have been there,» Harlan told KSL.com. “I appreciate the NCAA and Gonzaga getting us out of that situation, but we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. So many people have to go home and heal from the whole problem.

«But for Sharmell Green and what she did as the director of this group, to be victimized by this, along with so many others, is something that will take a long time for all of us to process.» It’s not an experience that our student-athletes and our students in general should have to go through.»

Gonzaga released a statement after Roberts finished speaking, saying the first priority was the safety and well-being of everyone involved in the event.

«We are disappointed and deeply saddened to know that what should always be an amazing attendance and Championship experience has been somehow compromised by this situation as it in no way reflects the values, standards and beliefs to which we at Gonzaga University hold ourselves accountable,» the statement said.

Utah’s season ended Monday with a 77-66 loss to Gonzaga. The Utes were hoping to return to the regional semifinals after losing 66-63 to eventual national champion LSU in the Sweet 16 last year.

Roberts said the Idaho incident was a distraction for her team.

«It was a distraction, an upset and unfortunate,» Roberts said. “This should be positive for everyone involved. This should be a joyous time for our program, and it’s a shame to have something of a black eye on the experience.»

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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