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Utah coach says team was shaken after experiencing racist hate during NCAA Tournament

Utah head coach Lynne Roberts speaks during a press conference after a second-round college basketball game against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., Monday, March 25, 2024.
Young Kwak
Utah head coach Lynne Roberts speaks during a press conference after a second-round college basketball game against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., Monday, March 25, 2024.

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 accommodation 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 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."

Utah deputy athletic director Charmelle Green told KSL.com that on Thursday night the basketball team, along with members of the band and cheerleading team, were walking to a restaurant when a truck got near them, revved its engines and someone yelled the N-word before speeding off.

"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," Green, who is Black, told KSL.com.

Two hours later, as the team started to leave the restaurant, two trucks were there with revving engines and someone again yelled the N-word, KSL.com reported.

Utah, South Dakota State and UC Irvine were all 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 that 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, including Identity Evropa, Proud Boys, ACT for America and America's Promise Ministries, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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