University of Utah women’s basketball team ‘shaken’ by ‘racial hate crimes’ in Idaho

Utah Utes coach Lynne Roberts at an NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament game
Utah Utes coach Lynne Roberts at an NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament game

Coach Lynne Roberts of the Utah Utes during a women's basketball game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at McCarthey Athletic Center on March 25, 2024, in Spokane, Washington. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The University of Utah’s women’s basketball program denounced instances of “racial hate crimes” they experienced in northern Idaho during their trip to play in the NCAA Tournament’s first and second rounds at Gonzaga University.

The team’s accommodations were at a hotel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, over a 35 minute drive from Gonzaga, located in Spokane, Washington. As the team was walking in the city, the occupants of trucks revved their engines while yelling the N-word at the group, according to a report from KSL.

As the team walked to a restaurant for dinner near their Idaho hotel on Thursday, “a vehicle drove by and occupants shouted racial epithets at the group,” University of Utah Athletics Director Mark Harlan, Deputy Athletics Director Charmelle Green and coach Lynne Roberts said in a joint statement.

In a second incident during their walk back to the hotel, a truck revved its engine “with its occupants again shouting racially disparaging words and threats,” according to the statement.

A police report was filed that evening, and the team moved to a hotel in Spokane. Since then, they “continue to be deeply troubled and shaken by the hateful and disturbing actions and vitriol,” according to the statement.

The case made national headlines and was widely shared on social media.

“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 statement reads. “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 this incident.”

Gonzaga University Athletics said in a statement that any form of hate speech is “repugnant (and) shameful.”

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

Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond condemned the drivers’ actions in a statement and apologized to the athletes.

“We express regret and true sorrow that your student athletes were treated with such disdainful treatment while visiting our city,” he said, describing the incident as “unacceptable.”

“Unacceptable” was also the word used by Idaho Gov. Brad Little in his comments about the incident in a social media post on X.

“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,” he wrote, a day after signing a ban on diversity statements across state government. “I will continue the tradition of past Idaho governors in supporting our local leaders in their efforts to eradicate hate and bigotry from our communities.”

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a post on X he was grateful to Little “for his response to these cowardly acts.”

“I spoke with Gov. Little earlier today and we’re both extremely dismayed by this incident,” he said in an additional statement released Tuesday. “We condemn racism in all its forms and applaud the University of Utah coach for calling out such disturbing attitudes and abhorrent behavior.”

Other officials and organizations denounced the racist incidents across Idaho on Tuesday, including:

  • Idaho Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke: “I am disgusted and angry about the disturbing events in Coeur d’Alene that were directed against athletes, students and visitors to our state. This foul incident caused by a few is inexcusable and does not in any way reflect Idaho’s shared values. Idaho does not tolerate racism, hate, or bigotry in any form. I offer my full support to Gov. Brad Little, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond and our local leaders in their continuing efforts to eliminate hate, racism, and bigotry from our communities. We will not stand for discrimination.”

  • Idaho legislative leadership, including House Speaker Mike Moyle, Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel and Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow: To Coach Lynne Roberts and Utah Women’s Basketball Team: On Behalf of the Idaho Senate and House members, we are writing to express our sadness and outrage for the racist actions by individuals who are not representatives of Coeur d’Alene or Idaho, that were directed at your team while visiting for the NCAA Tournament. It is unacceptable that visitors to our state were met with hate and vitriol. The individuals who harassed, demeaned and intimidated your players are not representative of Coeur d’Alene or Idaho’s ideals. On behalf of the Idaho Legislature, we adamantly denounce these displays of racism and hate. Idaho is better than this. We want to send a clear message to anyone who thinks this is acceptable — these actions are not welcome in our state. It is paramount that we work to create a culture where this type of behavior is unambiguously denounced. These players deserve to focus on their incredible athletic accomplishments. We congratulate you for your hard work and dedication, and wish you continued success.

  • Idaho Democratic Party chairwoman and Idaho state Rep. Lauren Necochea: “I am deeply disturbed and outraged that malicious, racist harassment cast a dark shadow on what should have been a joyous occasion for accomplished student-athletes. I condemn the people who committed these hateful acts and hope they will be brought to justice. I likewise condemn David Reilly, a self-proclaimed Christian nationalist, for interrupting a press conference by local leaders addressing the harassment. Racism is a painful and ugly part of Idaho’s history, particularly in Kootenai County, and clearly persists today, but it need not be part of our future. It is time for every Idahoan — and especially our leaders — to reaffirm our commitment to ending racial injustice.”

  • The University of Idaho: The report of NCAA women’s tournament guests to our state being met with hurtful and disparaging speech is disturbing. There is no place for hate at our university nor in our state. At the University of Idaho, we pride ourselves on creating a welcoming environment for all people. The NCAA basketball tournaments are exciting times in collegiate athletics. The University of Idaho Athletic Department is a proud sponsor of the men’s tournament. To have this even disparaged by such behavior is intolerable, and we hope those who were hurt by these actions know that we, at the University of Idaho, in no way condone this behavior, beliefs or action.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also supported the players in a post on her X account.

“Across history, women have been driving forces for change. Today is no different, and this team is made up of incredible athletes who embody this,” Mendenhall wrote. “Their courage in telling their story advances the work in our nation to eliminate racism.”

Many of the players felt unsafe and no one knew how to handle the situation regardless of their race, Roberts said to reporters.

“It was really upsetting for our players and staff to not feel safe in a NCAA Tournament environment,” she said. “It’s messed up.”

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