March 26, 2024 

Utah experiences racist harassment at NCAA Tournament

“It was incredibly upsetting for all of us,” Roberts said in a post-game press conference. “But, you know, racism is real. It happens. It's awful.”

The FBI and Idaho law-enforcement agencies are conducting an investigation into a disturbing set of incidents that occurred Friday while the University of Utah’s women’s basketball team was preparing for the NCAA Tournament. The mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the governor of Idaho, and the NCAA have all released statements Tuesday, after Utah head coach Lynne Roberts and the university’s deputy athletic director Charmelle Greene shared details of the incidents.

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According to an account provided by Greene to KSLTV in Salt Lake City, the team was being housed at a Coeur d’Alene resort about 35 minutes from the Gonzaga campus, where they were to play their first and second-round NCAA games. While a group walked to a restaurant for dinner — players, coaches, band members and cheerleaders — Greene said the team was harassed by the occupants of a truck flying a Confederate flag, who shouted the n-word at them, revved their engine and sped past the group.

When the group left the restaurant approximately two hours later, Greene told KSLTV, there were two trucks waiting for them. She said that the occupants of both vehicles shouted the n-word again and revved their engines. The traveling party hurried back to their hotel, filing a police report several hours later.

Greene, who is Black, said the incident brought her to tears.

The team immediately arranged with the NCAA, Gonzaga and University of Utah officials to move the team to a hotel in Spokane. UC Irvine stayed at the same resort and also requested a relocation after they learned about the Utes’ experience.

Roberts, speaking after her team’s second-round loss to Gonzaga, shared the broad details of the incident and its impact on the team.

“It was incredibly upsetting for all of us,” Roberts said. “You think in our world in athletics and university settings it’s shocking … like, there is so much diversity on a college campus and so you’re just not exposed to that very often. And so when you are, it’s like — you know, you have people say, ‘Man, I can’t believe that happened.’ But, you know, racism is real. It happens. It’s awful.”

She called it a “distraction and unfortunate.”

“This should be a positive for everybody involved,” said Roberts. “This should be a joyous time for our program. To have kind of a black eye on this experience is unfortunate.”

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On Tuesday afternoon, the NCAA released a statement about the incident. “The NCAA was made aware of the incident that occurred last week and immediately worked with Gonzaga and Utah to provide increased security for the team until new accommodations could be arranged within the same day in Spokane.”

“We are devastated about the Utah team’s experience while traveling to compete on what should have been a weekend competing on the brightest stage and creating some of the fondest memories of their lives.”

Roberts received support from Erin Mendenhall, the mayor of Salt Lake City. “Coach Roberts and @UTAHWBB showed immense courage by speaking up about the racism they experienced,” Mendenhall wrote on X. “I want them to know their city supports them.”

Colorado head coach JR Payne also tweeted in reaction to the incidents on Tuesday morning. “I am so crushed for Utah that this happened to them,” Payne wrote on X.

USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb also told The Next she reached out to Roberts on Tuesday morning. “These are people we know and care about and we want them to know they have our support,” Gottlieb said. “Racism and acts like this are never acceptable. I hate that this happened.”

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Greene said the cross-state accommodations for NCAA Tournament games surprised Utah officials. Spokane was busy over the weekend, hosting a men’s first and second-round regional at Spokane Arena. In addition, Gonzaga hosted three teams for women’s first and second-round games, as well as a large club volleyball tournament, which hosts thousands of participants and their families on this weekend annually.

While the men’s regional and the volleyball tournament are planned far in advance, Gonzaga had only four days notice that they would host, based on the Zags’ earning a No. 4 seed in the Tournament. The Zags had an opportunity to anticipate that that could happen, given Gonzaga’s strong positioning and its presence in the NCAA Top 16 rollouts in the month leading up to the Tournament, but it still lead to last-minute complications. A dearth of hotel rooms led Gonzaga and the NCAA to put Utah and UC Irvine in Coeur d’Alene, just across the Idaho border.

Coeur d’Alene mayor Jim Hammond, Kootenai County officials, and the manager of the resort held a press conference Tuesday, issuing apologies to Utah’s team. Hammond called the incident “appalling and disdainful” and confirmed law enforcement is investigating the incident. The FBI is also participating in the investigation, according to KSLTV.

The press conference abruptly ended when a reported member of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, described as an “arch-conservative group” began shouting down officials.

Greene said she will not forget what happened Friday night. “I will never forget the sound that I heard, the intimidation of the noise that came from that engine and the word [n-word],” Green said. “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.”

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Written by Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as and She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.

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