Utah women’s basketball team switched hotels after experiencing racism, says head coach




CNN
 — 

The Utah women’s basketball team had to switch hotels after experiencing what head coach Lynne Roberts called “racial hate crimes” ahead of its first NCAA tournament game.

According to Roberts, the team was staying at a hotel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, last week when the incidents occurred. This was before a first-round game against South Dakota State in Spokane, Washington, about 30 miles away.

“We had several instances of some kind of racial hate crimes towards our program, and (it was) incredibly upsetting for all of us,” Roberts told reporters on Monday.

She added: “There is so much diversity on a college campus and so you’re just not exposed to that very often … 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.”

Utah defeated South Dakota State on Saturday before losing 77-66 against Gonzaga in the tournament’s second round on Monday. CNN has contacted Utah and Gonzaga for further comment.

Roberts issues instructions to Utah players against Gonzaga.

The details of the alleged racist incidents are unclear, but Gonzaga said it may have been disparaging comments.

Following them, Roberts said the Utes switched hotels after just one night before their games in Spokane.

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

“The NCAA and ([host university) Gonzaga worked to get us in a new hotel and we appreciate that. That’s what happened. It was a distraction and upsetting and unfortunate.

“This should be a positive for everybody involved. This should be a joyous time for our program. To have kind of a black eye on this experience is unfortunate.”

Spokane was also a predetermined site for the first two rounds of the men’s tournament. With the Utah, UC Irvine (UCI), and South Dakota State women’s teams all staying in the area, hotel space was limited.

After the elimination of some men’s teams, the NCAA and Gonzaga offered Utah and UCI the chance to move to the vacated hotel rooms in Spokane, a source familiar with the situation told CNN.

The source added that, because Utah and UCI had been based in Idaho, Gonzaga had arranged for police escorts to ensure the drive time to the venue did not exceed approximately 30 minutes, which is a condition of being able to host after earning a top-16 seed.

Players and staff on the Utah bench look on against Gonzaga.

After those two teams were moved into Spokane hotels, police escorts continued to be provided for them, according to the source.

Gonzaga said that it is aware of “racially disparaging comments” to visiting players, adding: “Hate speech in any form is repugnant, shameful and must never be tolerated.

“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.”

The NCAA said Tuesday it worked with Gonzaga and Utah to provide increased security for the Utes until new accommodations were arranged in Spokane.

“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,” it said in a statement. “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 organization thanked local law enforcement for its quick response and “efforts to keep student-athletes safe.”

CNN’s David Close contributed to this report.



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