Lady Lions Cancel Rene Portland Commemoration

Penn State women’s basketball has canceled its planned commemoration of late head coach Rene Portland that was scheduled for the team’s season opener against Providence on Thursday.

Penn State Athletics said the change in plans came after its officials and university officials rethought the event, as the former coach’s “personal views toward the LGBTQ community were wholly and starkly inconsistent with Penn State values.”

Portland, who coached the team from 1980-2007, passed away in July after battling cancer for three years. She recorded more than 600 wins as coach of the Lady Lions — becoming the ninth coach in Division I history to achieve that honor at one school — but had the end of her coaching career marred by a lawsuit that brought to light her alleged “no-lesbian” team policy.

The coach was fined $10,000 and suspended one game in 2006 after an internal investigation that found she violated the university’s nondiscrimination policy. Following a settlement with former player Jen Harris, who said she was dismissed from the team due to her perceived sexuality, Portland resigned.

“Penn State Athletics has a history of observing coach and administrator tenures upon their passing. Coach Portland had a significant impact on the history of women’s basketball, both nationally and at Penn State. Student-athletes who competed under her represented our University with pride, and have gone on to lead successful lives and careers,” Penn State Athletics spokesperson Jeff Nelson said in a statement.

“However, we also know that Coach Portland’s personal views toward the LGBTQ community were wholly and starkly inconsistent with Penn State values. Her individual views did not reflect the importance we place on embracing human dignity by creating a welcoming and supportive environment for all. Together, Intercollegiate Athletics and University leadership have determined that further recognition at this time is not necessary or appropriate.”

Penn State women’s basketball released its promotional schedule on September 13. Penn State Athletics notified fans via email of the plans to cancel the commemoration on Saturday, five days before the scheduled event.

The late switch might’ve come from the potential backlash of honoring Portland.

On Friday, several student groups — including BRIDGE Diversity Alliance in the Department of Psychology, Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM), Graduate Alliance for Diversity and Inclusion (GADI), and College of the Liberal Arts Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Transformation (CoDIT) — signed a letter addressed to Athletic Director Sandy Barbour and Penn State President Eric Barron protesting the commemoration. The groups also started a petition that garnered approximately 400 signatures.

“Rene Portland’s anti-lesbian policy is well known (see documentary Training Rules) and overshadows any positive contribution that she made to the university community. In fact, when you google Rene Portland, every article and every obituary, including the New York Times obituary, discusses her blatant and openly hostile anti-gay comments and policy. To commemorate a person associated with legacy of prejudice sends a harmful message to students, faculty, and staff about who is valued and whose experiences can be erased,” the letter reads.

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About the Author

Steve Connelly

Unfortunately, former editor Steve Connelly has graduated. Where is he now? He might be doing something related to that PR degree he got in 2019. Maybe he finally opened that sports bar named after one of his photos, the Blurry Zamboni. Or he might just be eating chicken tenders and couch surfing. Anything’s possible. If you really want to know, follow him on Twitter @slc2o.

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