Penn State coach denies discriminating on race

Updated: November 9, 2005, 10:48 PM ET
Associated Press

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 the allegations.

"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 Madison.

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 "personal statement."

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.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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