April 17, 2024

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Utah women's basketball team forced to change hotels after 'racist hate crimes'

Utah women's basketball team forced to change hotels after 'racist hate crimes'

The Utah State women's basketball team checked into a luxury lakeside resort in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, last Thursday before a first-round NCAA Tournament game.

By the next morning, the NCAA was scrambling to find the Utes somewhere else to stay after they suffered what coach Len Roberts described as a series of “racist hate crimes.”

Roberts waited to reveal what happened until Utah's season ended Monday night in Spokane with a 77-66 second-round loss to Gonzaga. The Utah coach described the events as “shocking” and said “no one knew how to deal with it.”

“It was really upsetting,” Roberts said. “For our players and staff to not feel safe in an NCAA Tournament environment is chaotic.”

Utah shared more details about what the women's basketball team endured Tuesday evening in a joint statement issued by Roberts, Athletic Director Mark Harlan and Deputy Athletic Director Sharmell Green. The statement said, “A vehicle passed by the hotel and its occupants shouted racist remarks at the basketball team and the rest of the Utah traveling group as they were leaving the hotel to have dinner at the Coeur d'Alene restaurant.”

The Yuta squad had dinner, but faced a similar situation when they left the restaurant. A car allegedly passed the group slowly, “starting its engine as the occupants again shouted racist insults and threats.”

“As can be imagined, many students, staff and other members of the traveling group were extremely upset and frightened following the events in what should have been a safe and enjoyable experience,” Utah State's statement said. “Out of concern for their well-being and safety, we worked with Gonzaga and the NCAA to move to alternative accommodations in Spokane.”

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Tony Stewart, an official with the Kootenai County Human Relations Task Force, told Yahoo Sports that Utah's account matches what he heard from Coeur d'Alene resort executives and other third-party sources. The truck that first harassed the team displayed the Confederate flag, according to Stewart. When the team left the restaurant, Stewart said the driver himself “was still there but had recruited reinforcements.”

“It's pretty clear what they were up to,” Stewart said. “They are bigoted racists and want to keep minorities out.”

Officials from Coeur d'Alene He held a press conference Tuesday morning to address allegations of racism. Mayor Jim Hammond apologized directly “to the young women who were subjected to racist insults during their visit,” adding that such incidents “should never happen” and are “completely unacceptable.”

Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Lee White said his department was contacted Thursday night at 10 p.m. about an incident that occurred four hours earlier. The Coeur d'Alene Police Department is trying to speak to the victims to obtain video of the incident and locate the individuals who shouted the racial slurs.

“Until we speak with the victims of this incident and more witnesses, it is difficult for us to determine whether a state or federal crime occurred,” White said.

The Utah women's team originally stayed more than 30 miles east of Spokane at the Coeur d'Alene Resort because hotel space in Spokane was limited. Spokane was a pre-selected host site for the first and second rounds of the NCAA men's tournament, meaning hotel rooms for those eight teams were closed in advance.

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Some of those rooms opened last Friday when Spokane's top men's teams were eliminated. A source familiar with the situation told Yahoo Sports that Gonzaga and the NCAA scrambled to reserve those rooms and offered them to Utah and UC Irvine, the other women's team that resides in Coeur d'Alene.

“We also requested action for the well-being and safety of our student-athletes and the entire travel group,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, ​​assistant vice chancellor at UC Irvine.

The NCAA later issued a statement on Tuesday saying it “condemns racism and hate in any form” and was “devastated about the Utah team's experience.” When asked whether the NCAA would continue to hold events in Spokane or allow teams to shelter in Coeur d'Alene, an NCAA spokesperson did not respond.

Utah's joint statement described the school as “extremely disappointed with the decision to place our team in hotels far from the competition site in another state.”

“We will work with NCAA leadership to make clear that removal to date from the site is unacceptable and a contributing factor to the impact of this incident,” UT’s statement said.

Gonzaga too She condemned the eventsSaying her first priority is the safety and well-being of those participating in the NCAA Tournament.

“We are frustrated and deeply saddened to learn that what should always be a wonderful visitor and tournament experience has been compromised in any way by this situation,” Gonzaga's statement said.

The source familiar with the situation added that Gonzaga had previously arranged for a police escort to ensure that Utah's drive time from Coeur d'Alene to the arena in Spokane did not exceed the maximum permitted 30 minutes. The police escort continued after Utah moved to a hotel in Spokane, according to the source.

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Roberts told reporters that what her team endured made it difficult for Utah players to focus on their matches against South Dakota State and Gonzaga.

“It was a distraction and annoying and unfortunate,” she said. “This should be a positive thing for everyone involved. This should be an exciting time for our program. It's unfortunate that we ignore this experience.”