Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A slap on the wrist for damaging a young woman's career

I don't usually blog about sports, but I am a huge fan of women's basketball. The current case of Penn State women's coach Rene Portland is frustrating and ridiculous, all at the same time.

Mechelle Voepel, one of the most knowledgable columnists who follows the game, has a good overview today at ESPN about the case.

Portland's long history of apparently denigrating lesbian players caught up with her this year when she and her university were sued for allegedly kicking a player off the team for being gay. The player, Jennifer Harris, who is black but not gay, contends that Portland removed her because she perceived Harris to be a lesbian.

Tuesday Penn State announced that its internal investigation had proven that the charges were correct, but that it was only giving Portland what amounts to a slap on the wrist ($10,000 fine and attending yet another diversity training, among other things). The University's own report reads:
There was no evidence to substantiate Harris' claim of race discrimination. [But] enough evidence existed to substantiate a claim that Portland discriminated against Harris by creating a 'hostile, intimidating, and offensive environment' because of Harris' perceived sexual orientation. This is in violation of Penn State Policy AD-42, which prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics."
Meanwhile, Portland responded with a statement saying that she expected to one day be "fully vindicated."

Obviously, coach doesn't think she did anything wrong.

Lesbian-baiting women athletes has a long history in American sports. It has never been fair to anyone, whether lesbian or straight. It's hurt the sport, destroyed the careers of brilliant athletes and hurt teams.

I can't help but laugh when I think that a coach like Portland might have turned away the next Sheryl Swoopes, the WNBA MVP who came out this year. But this isn't a joke. This kind of prejudice hurts lives and stunts careers. Isn't it time to let it go?

Meanwhile, Harris is continuing with her lawsuit with the support of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. We may not know everything about this case yet, but we do know that it is far from over.

The center has posted another column by Voepel here.

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