NCAA Coach Details ‘Racial Hate Crimes’ Against Players

Myk Crawford/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
Myk Crawford/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

University of Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts said that her players were subjected to “racial hate crimes” while staying in a hotel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, last week during the NCAA tournament.

“We had several instances of some kind of racial hate crimes toward our program,” Roberts said in a press conference on Monday, adding that it was “incredibly upsetting for all of us.”

She continued: “You think in our worlds—you know, 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. ... 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.”

Roberts did not provide any specific details, but said the incidents occurred after the team checked into its hotel last Thursday in Coeur d’Alene, about 30 minutes away from host Gonzaga University’s home court.

Utah’s deputy athletics director Charmelle Green—a Black woman—provided more insight when she told local Utah news outlet KSL that a driver of a white truck revved their engine near the team as they walked to a restaurant, and then drove away as someone inside yelled the N-word at them. Green said that when the team was leaving the restaurant to head back to the hotel, the same thing happened again—this time with two trucks revving their engines as they shouted the N-word.

“Everybody was in shock,” Green told KSL. “Our cheerleaders, our students that were in that area that heard it clearly were just frozen. ... I will never forget the sound that I heard, the intimidation of the noise that came from that engine, and the word. 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.”

In her press conference on Monday, Roberts said that both the NCAA and Gonzaga University worked with the team to find them a new hotel. Still, she called the incident “really upsetting” and a “distraction” for the team, whose season ended with a 77-66 loss to Gonzaga on Monday.

“For our players and staff to not feel safe in a NCAA tournament environment, it’s messed up,” Roberts said, adding, “This should be a joyous time for our program, and to have kind of a black eye on that experience is unfortunate.”

Coeur d’Alene is a known hotbed for racial hate groups, with several groups currently operational in the region, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Utah’s athletic director Mark Harlan, who wasn’t with the team in Idaho but was told about what happened, told KSL, “I do appreciate the NCAA and Gonzaga moving us from that situation, but we should never have been there in the first place.”

Gonzaga issued a statement on Tuesday, which read in part, “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.”

Also on Tuesday, the mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Jim Hammond, made a statement about the incident, indicating that players from the University of California, Irvine experienced similar treatment while staying in the city. “I strongly condemn the appalling treatment of the female college athletes who are visiting Coeur d’Alene,” he said. “To the Utah and Irvine universities, we express regret and true sorrow that your student athletes were treated with such disdainful treatment.”

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