Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Step in the Right Direction

It's about fucking time

I first read about Rene Portland and her views was in the book Strong Women, Deep Closets when it first came out in 1998. The book also included personal accounts from players, coaches, and those in the athletic department of colleges and universities of all levels and what things were like at their school.

I was still in college and this book was an eye-opener to me.. because I realized how good I had it in school. My first year, the coach at the time had the team meet with a lesbian professor to talk to the team about homosexuality. The two deeply religious girls on the team showed up with their Bibles ready to quote passages and then six of us came out of the closet.. if it wasn't already that obvious. It was the first day of many great days of my college career and I'm glad that happened when it did. Sure, the bible thumpers had their beliefs as did I and the other 15 girls, but none of that mattered when we stepped between the lines. We had our fun, we had our jokes, but we also never worried about what the coaches thought.

At that time, I was also reading Sports Illustrated quite a bit and I remember an article about a couple of top basketball recruits. I'm sure I still have this article somewhere along with others similar to it. They were following 2 high-school senior girls and what things were like as they were looking at colleges. One of them flat out said she didn't want to play for a team where the coach and/or assistant coaches were gay. That's pretty ballsy for an 18 year old... and does that shit really matter? My choices of where I wanted to go to school were limited, but what mattered most was location, programs offered, and the softball team in that order. Okay, so I wasn't a top recruit.. big deal. Record didn't matter. Sexuality of the coaches/players didn't matter. But being comfortable in my own skin mattered and growing and learning to accept who I was mattered and I was fortunate to be surrounded by people that cared and were accepting.

And then you have people like Rene Portland.

I wish more people felt this way towards her.

Here's the background from an article by Mechelle Voepel on

"Her first public acknowledgment that she didn't want gay players as part of her program came in 1986. Those sentiments were revealed again in newspaper stories in 1991. Penn State responded then by adding sexual orientation to its antidiscrimination policy, and Portland went through what was labeled as diversity-sensitivity training.

Penn State apparently thought that was enough. Portland's teams won games and her players graduated. If the rumble remained about how she still dealt with players who didn't quite fit her notion of what a woman was supposed to look and/or act like in terms of adhering to a so-called stereotypical heterosexual "norm," Penn State either did not hear it or chose to ignore it.

All coaches recruit players they think will "fit in their system," and for some that system is much more than just what happens on the court. For most of the time between 1991 and 2005, Portland perhaps weeded out recruits who might have conflicted with her alleged viewpoints, or they weeded themselves out. Also, Portland and some lesbian players who came to Penn State were able to coexist. After 1991, Portland avoided comment on the issue.

Harris played two seasons at Penn State. The night Penn State was upset in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, Harris and fellow players Lisa Etienne and Amber Bland were told they were off the team.

That was followed by several days of bizarre rumors and speculation, because Portland initially did not state publicly that she'd removed them from the program. There were a series of releases and statements from the Penn State sports information department that were muddled and unclear. Message boards were rife with chatter.

The story Penn State wanted everyone to accept was that the three players left of their own accord. When the players denied that, the speculation only intensified. People who follow women's basketball wanted real explanations. Nobody at Penn State provided them.

If President Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley rue the headache that the last year has been involving the women's basketball program -- and you would assume they do -- then they need to look square in the mirror and think back to the spring of 2005 and their lack of an effective response to the situation.

Etienne and Bland went away without saying much, but Harris didn't."

I applaud Harris for standing up for herself yet feel sorry for the two girls that did nothing. I hope they go on to live happy lives no matter their sexuality. I doubt much will happen to Portland. I'm sure she'll continue to coach for a few more years and this will be no more than a footnote.

I highly recommend the book Strong Women, Deep Closets to anyone involved in sports at any level.


At 5:33 PM, Blogger The Smacca said...


Now I want to read that book, and I promised myself no new books until after the move.

* adds to growing list of "shit I can't buy until later because I'm on a self-imposed hiatus" *

I have a book problem.


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