Utah Women’s Basketball Team Reports Being Racially Abused While Staying In Idaho

In a postgame press conference Monday night, Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts said her team had experienced “several instances of racial hate crimes” near their hotel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where they were initially staying for the first round of the NCAA tournament.

A statement from Roberts, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan, and deputy athletic director Charmelle Green, says the group in Coeur d’Alene experienced “two separate disturbing encounters” last Thursday night, one as they walked to a restaurant, and another on the way back to their hotel:

“First, as the travelling party was walking to a restaurant for dinner in the vicinity of their hotel, a vehicle drove by and occupants shouted racial epithets at the group. Second, on the walk back to the hotel, a vehicle slowly passed the group, revving its engine with its occupants again shouting racially disparaging words and threats.” 

Their statement mentions a police report filed later that evening. The report from the Coeur d’Alene Police Department contains an account from one of the Utah program’s “main financial donors,” who told police that the team had gone out to Crafted Tap House, a restaurant less than 10 minutes walking distance from the team’s hotel, the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Around 6:00 p.m., the donor said, two pickup trucks revved their engines and sped by players as they walked. The same trucks “then turned around and came back towards the team and yelled the ‘N’ word at them as many of their players are African American,” the report says. The donor told police this created a “well founded fear among the players.” He reported the incident to police around 10:00 p.m. that night. Police didn’t speak with any players on the night of the incident, but the donor said some members of the team wished to press charges if it happened again while the team was in town, and the officer wrote the report “to document the incident in case the situation happens again.”  

Green, the deputy athletic director, is a black woman and was traveling with the team. “I will never forget the sound that I heard, the intimidation of the noise that came from that engine, and the word (N-word),” she told local outlet KSL.com. “I go to bed and I hear it every night since I’ve been here. … I couldn’t imagine us having to stay there and relive those moments.”

Coeur d’Alene’s mayor, the manager of the Coeur d’Alene Resort, and a representative from the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations held a press conference Tuesday to address the incident. The Task Force, a civil rights group first founded to battle the Aryan Nations in the 1980s, still works to fight hate in the area, which has long been a haven for extremists. The press conference ended abruptly when Dave Reilly, a far-right activist, began speaking over Tony Stewart, the Task Force’s secretary. Reilly is an Idaho transplant; in 2017, he resigned from his job at a Pennsylvania radio station after he was suspended for attending the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

Roberts said in her postgame presser that the NCAA and Gonzaga worked to move the team to a different hotel on Friday. Because the first two rounds of the women’s tournament are hosted on the campuses of the top four seeds, some schools can’t be sure they’re hosting until the bracket comes out, less than a week before the start of the tournament. In its host operations manual, the NCAA asks host sites to house participating schools “within reasonable proximity (under 30-minute drive) to the competition venue,” but the NCAA waived the requirement for Gonzaga due to the limited hotel space. (Coeur d’Alene is about a 35-minute drive.) Spokane was also hosting an annual youth volleyball tournament and six NCAA men’s tournament games, which are announced years in advance.

Green told KSL.com that the team’s police escort was from Washington and had no authority in Coeur d’Alene. “As we continue to heal, we remain very disappointed in the decision to assign our team to hotels such a great distance from the competition site, in another state,” the joint statement says. “We will work with NCAA leadership to make it clear that being so far removed from the site was unacceptable and a contributing factor to the impact of the incident.”

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