Utah women’s team changed hotels at NCAA Tournament after reported shouts of racist slurs

The Utah women’s basketball team changed hotels out of safety concerns before its first NCAA Tournament game after reporting that racist slurs were shouted at the team, according to a report from a Utah television station and Utes coach Lynne Roberts.

Utah played Saturday and Monday in Spokane, Wash., where Gonzaga hosted first- and second-round games. The team arrived at its hotel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, about 30 miles east of Spokane, on Thursday. While the team, band and cheerleaders walked to a restaurant for dinner, a truck revved its engine and a person yelled the N-word toward the team, KSL.com, a Salt Lake City television station, reported. Another incident occurred when the team left dinner with two trucks present, Utah deputy athletics director Charmelle Green told KSL.com.

Utah worked with the NCAA and Gonzaga to move to a hotel in Spokane on Friday, Utes coach Lynne Roberts said Monday.

“For our players and staff to not feel safe in an NCAA Tournament environment, it’s messed up, and so we moved hotels,” Roberts said.

The university filed a police report, KSL reported. When reached by The Athletic on Tuesday, the Coeur d’Alene Police Department acknowledged the report and said to file a public records request. City and police officials, along with a community group, scheduled a news conference for later Tuesday.

Utah’s season ended with a 77-66 loss to Gonzaga in the second round Monday.

The first two rounds of the women’s NCAA Tournament are generally hosted by teams at the top of the bracket. Utah, as a No. 5 seed, was grouped into fourth-seeded Gonzaga’s pod, along with South Dakota State and UC Irvine. Spokane was also a neutral-site host to eight men’s basketball teams for the first and second rounds of the men’s tournament over the weekend, creating a crunch for hotel rooms in the area. South Dakota State and UC Irvine did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gonzaga said in a statement it was “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.”

“Hate speech in any form is repugnant, shameful and must never be tolerated,” the university said. “We worked hard to secure the opportunity to serve as the host institution, and our first priority is and must be the safety and welfare of all student-athletes, coaches, families and supporting staff.”

U.S. Census Bureau data from 2020 shows that the residents of Coeur d’Alene are largely White, with Black people making up less than 1 percent of the population (more people reported themselves to be Asian or Native American, and about 5 percent said they were Latino). The city has a history with extremist groups, its mayor said in 2022, when 31 extremists were arrested after being found near a LGBTQ pride event in a truck with riot gear and a smoke grenade.

“You know, you think in our world in athletics and university settings it’s shocking in a — like there is so much diversity on a college campus and so you’re just not exposed to that very often,” Roberts said. “And so when you are, it’s like — you know, you have people say, man, I can’t believe that happened. But, you know, racism is real. It happens. It’s awful.”

This story will be updated.

(Photo of Utah coach Lynne Roberts: Myk Crawford / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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