02:32 - Source: CNN
Utah women's basketball coach describes 'racial hate' she says the team experienced
CNN  — 

Members of the Utah women’s basketball team have been left “deeply troubled and shaken” by what team officials called “hateful and disturbing” racial abuse ahead of their NCAA tournament opening game.

The team has filed a police report and is now releasing more details of what it says occurred in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Thursday ahead of a game against South Dakota State in Spokane, Washington, which is about 30 miles away.

According to a statement from Utah Athletics Director Mark Harlan, deputy AD Charmelle Green and women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts, the team was on its way to dinner when a vehicle drove past and “shouted racial epithets at the group.”

Later, when the team was on its way back from dinner, a vehicle drove slowly past the group, “revving its engine” while the occupants again shouted “racially disparaging words and threats,” the statement said.

It added: “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.”

In an interview with CNN affiliate KSL, Green said that the N-word had been shouted at the team on each of the two occasions.

Police have opened an investigation.

“At the time of the report, we were unable to speak to any of the potential victims of the incident, nor were we able to locate individuals who yelled the racial slurs,” Coeur d’Alene police chief Lee White said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“The Coeur d’Alene Police Department has an open case in this matter, and detectives are attempting to speak with any victims of this incident. But so far, we don’t know exactly who that may be. It was initially reported that there was approximately 100 people who were in the vicinity of the incident when it occurred.

“We are working cooperatively with our partners at the FBI because there are federal statutes that may be appropriately charged based on what actually occurred.”

A police spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday that it is working with the University of Utah to conduct interviews.

Young Kwak/AP
Lynne Roberts watches during the first half of the game between Gonzaga and Utah.

Deputy AD Green said that she was struggling to comprehend the abuse to which the team had been subjected.

“I will never forget the sound that I heard, the intimidation of the noise that came from that engine, and the (N-)word,” Green told KSL.

“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.”

The team was eventually moved to a hotel in Spokane, which hosted first and second round games in the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments.

Utah was staying in Coeur d’Alene because of limited hotel space in Spokane. The team was offered a police escort to ensure that the journey to the McCarthey Athletic Center did not exceed 30 minutes.

The Utes defeated South Dakota State on Saturday before losing 77-66 against host Gonzaga in the tournament’s second round on Monday.

On Tuesday, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations said that a Confederate flag was displayed in the vehicle that had initially passed the team.

“I want to make it very clear and very loud that we condemn in the strongest terms those horrendous acts of hatred, and if the perpetrators can be found, we call upon them to be prosecuted,” Tony Stewart, the director of the task force, said at a Tuesday press conference.

“There is no place in our communities or in the United States of America for such horrific acts.”

Stewart also said that one perpetrator had been involved in both instances of alleged abuse, though was “reinforced by others” on the second occasion.

In a statement on Tuesday, the NCAA said that it was aware of the instances of racial abuse and “immediately worked with Gonzaga and Utah to provide increased security for the team” before the new accommodation was arranged.

“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,” the statement said.

However, Harlan, Green and Roberts said in their statement that they were “very disappointed” to have been accommodated so far from the venue.

Gonzaga said that it was 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 UC Irvine women’s basketball team was also staying in Coeur d’Alene but was not subject to any racist abuse during their time there, UCI confirmed to CNN in a statement. Once the incident with Utah’s team occured, the NCAA reached out to UCI and its team moved to a hotel in Spokane for the “well-being and safety” of their group.