Ron Cook: PSU should fire Portland
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What if Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland had said she didn't want black girls on her team?
Or white girls?
Would she still have her job?
One more question:
What in the world is the Penn State administration thinking by allowing Portland to stay on as coach after its half-year internal investigation determined she created a "hostile, intimidating and offensive environment" for at least one of her players whom she believed to be a lesbian?
Discrimination is discrimination, right?
That Penn State is tolerating it from Portland, giving her what amounts to a public slap on the wrist, is despicable.
It comes as no surprise that Portland turned up dirty in this investigation. There have been complaints about an anti-lesbian bias in her program for years, so many that Penn State had to alter its discrimination policy to include sexual orientation in 1991. Still, there were whispers that Portland was getting away with abuse directed at players she knew or believed to be lesbians. It wasn't until a former player -- Jennifer Harris -- filed a federal lawsuit in December claiming discrimination that the Penn State administration finally realized it had to start paying attention to the complaints.
What is a surprise, not to mention flat-out embarrassing for Penn State, is how its administration so casually and so brazenly shrugged off Harris' case against Portland. Originally, the university's thought was to give Portland a one-game suspension, which is laughable. That's the sort of punishment a player might get for being five minutes late for a team meeting or missing a class. In the end, Penn State decided to fine Portland $10,000, give her a written reprimand and make her participate in diversity training. That, too, is laughable. We're not talking about a minor recruiting violation here. This was discrimination. A player's on-court performance is Portland's business. So is a player's academic progress. But a player's sexual preferences? None of Portland's business, none of any coach's business.
Harris has denied being a lesbian, by the way.
If you look at this another way, maybe we shouldn't be surprised by Penn State's weak handling of the case. It's not exactly known lately for strong leadership at the very top when it comes to its athletic department. School president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley are the same men who went to Joe Paterno's house after the 2004 football season to ask for his resignation. Paterno basically told them to get lost, which they did, only to re-emerge late last season to backslap Paterno after Penn State won the Big Ten Conference championship and went to the Orange Bowl.
That's strong leadership?
But keeping Paterno is one thing. He's a legend -- the greatest college football coach of all time it says here -- whose only real offense was failing to win enough games from 2000-04. Keeping Portland, who also has been successful during her 26 seasons at Penn State, is something much different, much worse, much more damning. It's hard to believe she would have been kept on in too many other workplaces in this country, especially in such a high-profile position that involves working with young people. That she is being allowed to stay at a public university, which needs tolerance and diversity to thrive as an academic institution, seems especially abhorrent.
Portland called Harris' claims against her "unfounded." She said the findings of Penn State's investigation "were flawed." If both are true, why does Portland want to stay at Penn State and keep coaching? Why does she want to continue working for people who don't believe her and don't believe in her?
Portland should do the right thing for everyone involved and resign.
If she's somehow innocent of the discrimination accusations, she doesn't need Penn State and its lame administrators.
If she's not, Penn State shouldn't want anything to do with her.Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
Penn State coach Rene Portland signals from the bench in a game against Ohio State in 2004.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published April 23, 2006 12:00 am