Gov. Spencer Cox stands by his support of the Utah Jazz’s minority scholarship program

His answer to a radio talk show question has spawned a right-wing backlash.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, second from right, wife Abby and daughter Emma Kate cheer on the team as the Utah Jazz host the Indiana Pacers, Friday, April 16, 2021 at Vivint Arena.

A caller — “David from Highland” — on KSL Newsradio’s “Let Me Speak To The Governor” program Thursday asked Utah governor Spencer Cox a question:

“The Utah Jazz is excluding white children from consideration for their scholarship program. Do you think this is racist? And what will you do to prevent the Utah Jazz from acting in this racist manner?”

Cox, in a passionate response, said that he supported the Jazz’s scholarship program.

“Well, I don’t think it’s racist. In fact, I think it’s in response to, unfortunately, some very difficult and racist injustices that have happened in our community for a long time.”

He continued:

“And I’ll tell you what I’m going to do about the Utah Jazz: Absolutely nothing, because you know what? I believe in the Constitution and I believe in the freedom of businesses to make decisions and decisions that are right for them. Your kid or my kid, they have no right to the Utah Jazz’s money and the Utah Jazz and Ryan Smith can do the things that they want to do with their funds and their revenues.

“And, look, it’s an awesome program and it’s something that we should be celebrating. The cool thing is that the Utah Jazz have more wins than any team in the nation, which means that there are more scholarships available for kids in our state. And these are kids who are in at-risk communities. These are kids who have struggled. These kids are kids who have not had access to the same opportunities that my kids and your kids have had.

“You know, we live in a nation that does have a very difficult history and sometimes we try to ignore it. A history of racial injustice, a history where — of course, slavery being the most severe and awful example of that. But, look, that stuff just doesn’t go away overnight. And we’re working very hard on on equity, making sure that every kid in our state has the same opportunities as others. And so looking for ways to lift communities that have been historically and disproportionately impacted isn’t racist at all. In fact, it’s a great way to overcome racism. And I’m really proud of the Jazz and the great things that they’re doing.”

That defense earned Cox derision from right-wing personalities on Twitter, TV news, and elsewhere. Ann Coulter attacked the program and Cox’s support of it. Jack Posobiec, commentator for the One America News Network and promotor of the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory, called for Cox’s resignation, calling him a “RINO” — “Republican In Name Only.” InfoWars criticized Cox, as did conservative online magazine The Federalist.

In response, Cox stood by his answer, saying, “I hope you will take time to listen to what I actually said. But look folks, if you’re outraged by a private individual trying to help disadvantaged minority kids go to college, then I’m definitely not your guy.”

The Jazz’s scholarship program was started by new team owner and Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith. For each Jazz win, the team gives one scholarship to a Utah high school senior of color to one of six in-state schools: Brigham Young University, Southern Utah University, University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Utah State University, and Weber State University. The student must demonstrate financial need in the application process, and preference is given to first-generation college students.

The Jazz, meanwhile, have tried to stay out of the controversy. Head coach Quin Snyder sidestepped a question about the scholarships, saying he didn’t want to “speculate on perception and various political dominoes,” instead preferring to talk about Dwyane Wade’s purchase of a minority ownership stake in the team. Team PR referred media requests for comment back to the team’s original release about the program.

In that original release, the team explains why the scholarships are being given.

“People of color are underrepresented in the classroom and workforce relative to the rest of the population, with Black and African American, Hispanic and Latinx, and Native American and Alaska Native groups remaining half as likely as their white peers to have a bachelor’s degree or higher and having higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts. The goal of the award is to help directly address these gaps by providing scholarships to students of color who have historically received fewer resources and less support.”

After winning their 45th game on Friday, the Jazz, as it typically does after games, tweeted that another scholarship was on its way to Utah youth.