Events in Idaho a ‘black eye’ on NCAA tournament for Utah basketball as leaders issue statements

Mar 26, 2024, 6:43 PM | Updated: Mar 27, 2024, 12:30 am

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — The Coeur d’Alene police department is investigating the harassment of University of Utah basketball players. The FBI is also involved.

The university said its community is deeply troubled by the events in a statement, while the Idaho city’s mayor apologized. The state’s legislature and governor released statements.

“There is no place for racism, hate, or bigotry in the great State of Idaho,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little said.

Two separate incidents marked the stay of the university’s women’s basketball team in Idaho as it participated in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament Thursday in Washington. As the team was walking to dinner, a truck drove next to them, revved its engine and somebody yelled racial race-based slurs.

Witnesses said as the group was leaving dinner, a second group in another vehicle made threats to players. Because of safety concerns, the team requested to be moved from its hotel and closer to the tournament venue in Spokane, Washington, across the Idaho state line.

After the events came to light at a basketball press conference, the university released a statement while officials in Idaho issued apologies. The full text of the University of Utah’s statement is at the end of this story, but it said staff, administrators and supporters are deeply troubled and shaken.

The NAACP Salt Lake said it was disappointed with the racist incident.

“I have spoken with the Coeur d’Alene chief of police, and he assured me that he and his department are doing a thorough investigation,” Janetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP told KSL TV. Williams is also president of the Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

Williams said she is familiar with the history of that part of Idaho and confirmed the FBI is involved.

Utah coach Lynne Roberts talked about the events at a press conference Monday and said her team, which has faced adversity all season, was shocked and upset.

“This (the tournament) should be a positive for everybody involved,” Roberts said. “This should be a joyous time for our program and to have kind of a black eye on that experience is unfortunate.”

With the help of Gonzaga University in Spokane, approximately 33 miles away, and the NCAA, the team moved the next day. She also said that while some may be surprised by acts of racism, she believes it is more common than people think.

“I think it happens a lot, and it doesn’t get talked about enough,” she said.

The University of Utah’s statement said that putting the team so far from the competition site was unacceptable and contributed to the impact of the incident.

Tuesday, Jim Hammond, mayor of Coeur d’Alene, described the behavior of those in the vehicles as appalling and unacceptable.

“To the young women who endured racial slurs while visiting, I offer my most sincere apology,” Hammond said. “We, all of us, stand with you, we embrace you, we celebrate your accomplishments and strongly denounce any malicious treatment towards you.”

Police in Coeur d’Alene said officers are working with businesses in the area where the women were walking to get security footage and hopefully identify the vehicles involved. Police said over 100 people were in the area when the incidents happened and they are in the process of gathering witness statements.

The FBI takes anonymous racism tips at tips.fbi.gov while reminding people not to report emergencies there and that if a person is in danger, to call 9-1-1.

The full statement from University of Utah Athletics Director Mark Harlan, Deputy Athletic Director CHarmelle Green, and Roberts follows:

The University of Utah and members of our women’s basketball team, band and spirit teams, staff, administrators and supporters, continue to be deeply troubled and shaken by the hateful and disturbing actions and vitriol directed toward them in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, last Thursday evening. The incidents occurred shortly after the traveling party arrived in the area to participate in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament’s First and Second Rounds hosted by Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.

There were two separate disturbing encounters. First, as the travelling party was walking to a restaurant for dinner in the vicinity of their hotel, a vehicle drove by and occupants shouted racial epithets at the group. Second, on the walk back to the hotel, a vehicle slowly passed the group, revving its engine with its occupants again shouting racially disparaging words and threats. A police report was filed later Thursday evening with the City of Coeur d’Alene Police Department, and we will continue to work with the authorities in their investigation.

As can be imagined, many students, staff and other members of the traveling party were deeply disturbed and fearful after the incidents, in what should be a safe and enjoyable experience. Out of concern for their well-being and safety, we worked with Gonzaga and the NCAA to move to alternate accommodations in Spokane.

Now, several days later, we are continuing to provide support and resources to all of those impacted by the events in Idaho last Thursday.

As we continue to heal, we remain very disappointed in the decision to assign our team to hotels such a great distance from the competition site, in another state. We will work with NCAA leadership to make it clear that being so far removed from the site was unacceptable and a contributing factor to the impact of this incident.

We do want to express our gratitude for the care and concern demonstrated to us by Gonzaga University, and for the comments today from Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond and other local officials. We take their regret sincerely and appreciate both their strong condemnation and denouncement of the abhorrent conduct as well as their commitment to bringing those responsible to justice.

Our focus will remain on the well-being of our students and staff.


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Events in Idaho a ‘black eye’ on NCAA tournament for Utah basketball as leaders issue statements