Utah Coach Says Team Was Shaken After Experiencing Racist Hate During NCAA Tournament

SPOKANE, Wash.: Utah coach Lynne Roberts said her team experienced a series of “racial hate crimes” after arriving at its first NCAA Tournament hotel and was forced to change accommodations during the event for safety concerns.

Roberts revealed what happened after Utah lost to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAAs on Monday night. Roberts didn’t go into detail but said there were several incidents that happened Thursday night after the team arrived in the Spokane, Washington, area for the tournament and they were disturbing to the traveling party to the point there were concerns about safety.

Utah was staying about 30 miles away in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and was relocated to a different hotel on Friday.

“We had several instances of some kind of racial hate crimes toward our program and (it was) incredibly upsetting for all of us,” Roberts said. “In our world, in athletics and in university settings, it’s shocking. There’s so much diversity on a college campus and so you’re just not exposed to that very often.”

Tony Stewart, an official with the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, said Tuesday that two teams were walking from the hotel to a restaurant when a truck with a Confederate flag drove up. The driver began using racist language, including the N-word.

After the teams left the restaurant, the same driver returned “now reinforced by others,” Stewart said, and they revved their engines and again yelled at the players. Stewart did not identify the second team. In addition to Utah, South Dakota State and UC Irvine stayed in Coeur d’Alene.

“We all just were in shock, and we looked at each other like, did we just hear that? … Everybody was in shock — our cheerleaders, our students that were in that area that heard it clearly were just frozen,” Utah deputy athletic director Charmelle Green, who is Black, told KSL.com.

Coeur d’Alene police Chief Lee White said about 100 people were around the area that night, but investigators still need to interview those affected. He said there are two state charges that could be enforced — malicious harassment and disorderly conduct — if someone is arrested. White also said he was working with the FBI.

“Until we get all the facts and the investigation is complete, what charges might actually be brought against the perpetrators is yet to be determined,” White said.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a statement that read, in part, “There is no place for racism, hate, or bigotry in the great State of Idaho. We condemn bullies who seek to harass and silence others.”

Utah, South Dakota State and UC Irvine were staying at hotels in Idaho, even with Gonzaga as the host school, because of a lack of hotel space in the Spokane area. Several years ago, the city was announced as a host for the first and second rounds of the men’s NCAA Tournament and there was also a large regional youth volleyball tournament in the area during the weekend.

That left limited hotel space and Gonzaga received a waiver from the NCAA to allow teams to be housed in Coeur d’Alene.

“Racism is real and it happens, and it’s awful. So for our players, whether they are white, Black, green, whatever, no one knew how to handle it and it was really upsetting,” Roberts said. “For our players and staff to not feel safe in an NCAA Tournament environment, it’s messed up.”

Roberts said the NCAA and Gonzaga worked to move the team after the first night.

“It was a distraction and upsetting and unfortunate. This should be a positive for everybody involved. This should be a joyous time for our program and to have kind of a black eye on the experience is unfortunate,” Roberts said.

Gonzaga issued a statement after Roberts finished speaking saying the first priority is the safety and welfare of everyone participating in the event.

“We are frustrated and deeply saddened to know what should always be an amazing visitor and championship experience was in any way compromised by this situation for it in no way reflects the values, standards and beliefs to which we at Gonzaga University hold ourselves accountable,” the statement said.

Far-right extremists have maintained a presence in the region. In 2018, at least nine hate groups operated in the region of Spokane and northern Idaho, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.


AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Las Vegas contributed.


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – Associated Press)

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