CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

FBI now involved in Utah Women’s Basketball racism investigation

Mar 26, 2024, 9:00 PM | Updated: Mar 27, 2024, 5:44 pm

Utah Utes players circle up before the women’s college basketball game against Weber State Univer...

Utah Utes players circle up before the women’s college basketball game against Weber State University at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. (Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

(Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — Police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho are now working with FBI investigators after people yelled racial slurs at the University of Utah Women’s basketball team.

Tune in at 10:05!

 

The incident

According to head coach Lynne Roberts, the team was staying at a hotel in Coeur d’Alene last week ahead of their game against Gonzaga. When they were walking to dinner from their hotel, a truck revved its engine and then shouted the N-word at them.

The same thing happened on the way back from dinner. Roberts said they had to switch hotels. 

“Racism is real, and it happens,” she said in a postgame conference. “For our players, whether they are white, black, green, whatever, no one knew how to handle it. It was really upsetting for our players and our staff to not feel safe in an NCAA tournament environment. It’s messed up.”

The investigation 

Chief Lee White with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department said this incident has reached levels of federal investigation. 

“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,” White said. “There’s an Idaho statute regarding malicious harassments, the second one is a disorderly conduct statute, and then thirdly there is a federal crime based on what actually occurred that evening. ”

KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas said this incident does merit investigation as a hate crime. “The use of the N word all by itself is about as derogatory as you could imagine. It clearly outlines what the person who shouted it was trying to say. That was to express hate and contempt to people because of their color.” 

Retired and Attorney for the FBI Greg Rodgers told KSL NewsRadio that he worked in Coeur d’Alene during his time in the FBI, and that this kind of behavior unfortunately makes sense for the area. “There is not a large minority population in Coeur d’Alene.” 

READ MORE: Utah women’s basketball team forced to move hotels after racial hate crimes during NCAA Tournament

He said during his time there, he saw many white nationalist militia groups hanging around the town. 

“Unfortunately these groups… if you live in these small communities around Coeur d’Alene… that’s where they are,” he said. “They are in Coeur d’Alene all the time, and unfortunately they acted out in just a grossly inappropriate way, but that’s what they do.” 

Incident response

Idaho Governor Brad Little posted a statement on “X,” calling out the actions. 

Governor Spencer Cox reposted the response on his personal “X” account. He added that he is grateful for Little’s response to the “cowardly acts.” 

“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,” said the University of Utah’s Athletic Director Mark Harlan in a press release. 

He said Gonzaga University extended great support to their team. He thanked the Mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Jim Hammond, who expressed deep regret for the incident in a press conference. 

“I strongly condemn the appalling treatment of the female college athletes who were visiting,” Hammond said. “We express regret and true sorrow that your student-athletes were treated with such disdainful treatment.” 

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FBI now involved in Utah Women’s Basketball racism investigation