Utah Women’s Basketball Confronts Racism: Idaho Police Probe Incidents


Police in Coeur d’Alene, a northern Idaho town described by a local public advocacy organization as a “haven” for white supremacist groups, are investigating after the University of Utah women’s basketball coach claimed her team was targeted in a series of “racial hate crimes” while in town for the NCAA Tournament last week.

Mayor Jim Hammond apologized to the squad during a news conference on Tuesday. The apology came after Utah athletics officials reported that a driver revved their engine and hurled the N-word at the team, band members, and cheerleaders as they went out to dinner Thursday evening. Later, when the party left the restaurant, two trucks approached them, revving their engines and yelling the N-word in another incident.

“We condemn, in the strongest terms, those horrendous acts of hatred,” Tony Stewart of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations stated at the news conference. “If the culprits can be identified, we want them to be prosecuted. Such heinous atrocities have no place in our communities or the United States of America.

Police Chief Lee White stated that local law enforcement received a report about the incident the night it occurred and is collaborating with the FBI to speak with the victims and witnesses to determine whether any state or federal statutes apply. He referenced federal law, a state law prohibiting malicious harassment, and a provision banning disorderly conduct.

An FBI representative told NBC News, “We are aware of the incident in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and are in regular contact with local authorities.” If information about a potential federal violation arises during the local inquiry, the FBI is ready to investigate.”

The team was in the area to compete in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Washington, hosted by Gonzaga University but had to remain in Idaho due to a lack of hotel accommodations. Coach Lynne Roberts recounted the event to the press on Monday.

“Racism is real, it happens, and it’s awful,” Roberts remarked. “Our players, whether they were white, black, green, or whatever, no one understood how to manage it. And it was very upsetting. And the fact that our players and staff do not feel comfortable in an NCAA Tournament environment is unacceptable.”

According to Roberts, the NCAA and Gonzaga assisted in moving the team to a different hotel. Roberts and the women’s athletics department did not immediately reply to calls for comment. Gonzaga and NCAA officials, as well as Idaho Governor Brad Little, issued fast remarks apologizing to the players and denouncing the harassment.

Coeur d’Alene and northern Idaho have become recognized for radicalism and the rise of racist organizations. The Aryan Nations and other white supremacist organizations have plagued the region since at least the 1970s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2022, members of Patriot Front, a racist hate group, marched through downtown Coeur d’Alene. According to The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, 31 of them were arrested on accusations of plotting to riot.

A local far-right activist attended Tuesday’s news conference, ranting about the Patriot Front incident. He claimed to be a journalist but refused to reveal the publication he worked for. The attendees at the occasion booed him.

The Idaho 97 Project, which fights far-right extremism in the state, has described the region as a “haven” for white supremacist hate groups.

“We’ve always had extremism in Idaho on some level, going back to Richard Butler and some of those groups in Coeur d’Alene,” stated Mike Satz, the executive director at the time, in 2022. He told KSTV-TV in Twin Falls, “We also have a lot of people who are just moving into the state who are coming here because they see Idaho as a conservative bastion.”

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