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Police investigating racial harassment of NCAA women's basketball team in Idaho

SPOKANE, WASHINGTON - MARCH 25: Alissa Pili #35 of the Utah Utes is introduced before the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at McCarthey Athletic Center on March 25, 2024 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Steph Chambers
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SPOKANE, WASHINGTON - MARCH 25: Alissa Pili #35 of the Utah Utes is introduced before the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at McCarthey Athletic Center on March 25, 2024 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Police in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and the FBI are investigating after a team in the NCAA Women's basketball tournament said they were racially harassed while staying in the city.

Members of the University of Utah women's team told police someone in a truck displaying a confederate flag yelled racial slurs and revved the engine in a menacing way as players and staff walked to dinner last Thursday. They say that same truck and a second were waiting as the team returned from dinner and followed them back to their hotel.

Utah's team, and the women's team from the University of California, Irvine, were staying in the north Idaho town to participate in the basketball tournament in nearby Spokane, Wash.

"It was really upsetting," said Utah Head Coach Lynne Rogers. "And for our players and staff to not feel safe in an NCAA Tournament environment, that's messed up."

The NCAA says it worked with the teams and tournament site host Gonzaga University to get the teams extra security. Utah's team was relocated to a hotel in Spokane the next day. UC Irvine returned home Saturday after being eliminated from competition.

"I strongly condemn the appalling treatment of the female college athletes who are visiting Coeur d'Alene prior to the beginning of the basketball tournament in Spokane," said Coeur d'Alene Mayor Jim Hammond at a press conference Tuesday.

The incident occurred in a part of the Pacific Northwest that was once synonymous with hate groups and has lately seen a rise in extremism even among its elected officials. Coeur D'Alene and northern Idaho became known as a haven for extremism and racist groups in the 1970s and '80s when the Aryan Nations relocated its headquarters there. Skinheads held parades in the 1990s. Activity declined following a lawsuit, but two summers ago 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested there, with plans to disrupt a queer pride event.

"This is yet another example to those individuals who claim incorrectly that racism is no longer a problem. They are wrong," Tony Stewart with the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations said at the press conference, carried by KXLY television.

"We are witnessing a troubling growth of a very toxic environment in our country and locally, by individuals and organized extremist groups to advance many forms of hatred," Stewart said.

Idaho governor Brad Little, Gonzaga University and the NCAA released statements condemning the incident.

Local police are working with the FBI to investigate and asking the 100-some people who may have witnessed the harassment to report what they saw.

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio News

Troy Oppie
Troy Oppie grew up playing trombone in Seattle, developing an interest in jazz at an early age thanks to many great music teachers. That interest in music became an interest in radio, and Troy was eventually blessed with an opportunity to host overnight jazz programming on KPLU-FM in Seattle for nearly five years.
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