Utah Women’s Basketball Team Endured “Racial Hate Crimes” During NCAA Tournament

(Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The Utah women’s basketball team was forced to switch hotels during the NCAA tournament after enduring “racial hate crimes” ahead of their first-round game.

It was supposed to be a night of celebration. Last week, the team went out for dinner near their hotel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which is approximately 35 minutes away from Spokane, WA, where the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament took place.

But the tone for the evening quickly shifted while the team, accompanied by the band and cheerleaders, walked over to the restaurant together. According to local Utah news outlet KSL, “a white truck got near the team, revved its engines to make its presence known, and then yelled the N-word toward the team before speeding off.”

Charmelle Green, who is Black, is the deputy athletics director for Utah. Green said, “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.”

“We kept walking, just shaking our heads, like I can’t believe that,” stated Green.

The team continued with their night and had dinner, but unfortunately had a similar experience when they tried to leave. But, “[t]his time, though, two trucks were present, revving their engines and making a lot of noise in an intimidating way, while yelling the N-word again to those present.”

Green says, “I got emotional and started to cry,” and relayed what had happened to Mark Harlan, the athletic director for the university.

At this juncture, the team’s safety was in question, especially considering North Idaho’s history with hate groups. As of 2021, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed “six hate groups in Idaho…[and] hate crimes are increasing. Fifty-four hate crimes in Idaho were reported to police in 2020 — 19 targeted racial groups, most of which targeted African-Americans and the Hispanic and Latino communities.”

In the aftermath, “the NCAA and Gonzaga offered Utah…the chance to move,” CNN reports. In addition, police escorts were provided for the team.

The NCAA released a statement: “The NCAA condemns racism and hatred in any form and is committed to providing a world-class athletics and academic experience for student-athletes that fosters lifelong well-being.”

“NCAA championship events represent the pinnacle of a student-athlete’s collegiate career. 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,” the statement continued.

Less than two days after this incident, the tournament started. During their first- round game on Saturday, the Utah Utes were victorious over South Dakota State. But, Utah did end up losing Monday in the second round to Gonzaga, 77-66.

“We had several instances of some kind of racial hate crimes towards our program, and (it was) incredibly upsetting for all of us,” Coach Lynne Roberts stated during a press conference following Monday’s game.

“There is so much diversity on a college campus and so you’re just not exposed to that very often,” continued Roberts. “Racism is real. It happens. It’s awful. So for our players, whether they are white, Black, green, whatever, no one knew how to handle it. It was really upsetting.”

“In our world, in athletics and in university settings, it’s shocking,” Roberts added.

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