STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State women's basketball coach
Rene Portland said Wednesday that a former player's departure from
the school was purely basketball-related, firmly denying that any
racial discrimination was involved.
Portland, who earlier rejected an accusation of discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation in the same case, issued a
statement saying that she "categorically and emphatically" denied
"My career has been built on treating all Lady Lion players
with respect," she said. "I will continue to do so."
In paperwork filed last week with the Pennsylvania Human
Relations Commission to start a complaint against Portland and the
university, an attorney for Jennifer Harris said her client was the
victim of "discrimination, retaliation and harassment" on the
basis of sex and race.
The documents were the first to raise race as an issue. Portland
had issued a strongly worded statement denying the accusation of
discrimination by sexual orientation after allegations first
surfaced last month.
Harris, who is black, said in the filing with the state agency
that Portland "continually harassed me to change my appearance and
my image because she thought I was not 'feminine' enough." She
transferred from Penn State after last season and now attends James
Portland has declined to speak directly about the Harris case.
In her statement Wednesday, however, she said without mentioning
Harris by name that she felt compelled to respond to the
allegations of racial discrimination.
"The dismissal of the former player raising these allegations
was, and still is, a basketball decision and the result of my
responsibility to do what is best for this team. Nothing else,"
Portland said in what officials characterized as the coach's
Harris started 22 games for Penn State last season and averaged
10.4 points, third-best on the team.
Shannon Minter, a lawyer for the National Council for Lesbian
Rights, which is representing Harris, maintained that while Harris
has said she is not gay, she was perceived to be gay by her coach,
and that race was also an issue.
Portland has said that Harris was disrespectful toward coaches
and teammates and had a work ethic that was "unsatisfactory and
detrimental to the success of the team."
Besides Portland and the university, athletic director Tim
Curley is named in the complaint to the state agency. The
university's affirmative action office is also investigating.