Homophobia in sports

(Courtesy of WomanVision)
(Courtesy of WomanVision)

Students, athletes and faculty filed into the UMC for a film screening of “Training Rules,” a documentary that addresses homophobia in women’s athletics.

The screening was presented Monday evening by the GLBT Alumni Chapter of the CU-Boulder Alumni Association.

The documentary, by Dee Mosbacher, examines how women’s collegiate sports, caught in a web of homophobic practices, destroys the lives and dreams of many of its most talented athletes.

Rene Portland, a former CU women’s basketball coach, is featured in the documentary. For 26 years she was a basketball coach at Pennsylvania State University and during this time she implemented three specific rules, according to the documentary. The athletes on her team were not allowed to drink or use drugs, and they all had to be heterosexual.

The documentary highlights the difference between sexual discrimination and sexual discrimination in sports.

Ceal Barry, a former women’s basketball coach at CU and current associate athletic director, addressed the audience at the screening. Barry sat on a panel that discussed the documentary after the showing. She said some athletes are unable to report discrimination because of fear of the authority of their coaches.

“Big-time athletics is an entity in and of itself,” Barry said to the audience. “Things go unreported and unaddressed because athletes fear the power coaches hold over them.”

The documentary showed viewers that Portland used her authority as a coach to threaten the dreams her athletes had worked towards their whole lives.

Jennifer Harris, one of Portland’s players in 2004 who is also featured in the documentary, said in the film she was fearful of the effects of Portland’s discrimination.

“If we were to talk to a lesbian, or if she found out we were a lesbian, she’d take away our scholarship, she’d make sure we’d never play basketball again,” Harris said. “I feared losing my starting spot, my playing time, more harassment or getting kicked off the team altogether.”

Harris was dismissed from the team in 2005, according to the documentary.

Portland’s sexual discrimination practices were first made public in 1986, during an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, according to the documentary.

“I will not have it in my program,” Portland said to the publication in reference to homosexuality.

Penn State overlooked Portland’s prejudiced tactics. “Training Rules” shows she was allowed to continue coaching the Lady Lions and win a couple Coach of the Year awards.

Several players of the Penn State basketball team either resigned or were dismissed, and suffered many psychological problems, such as depression and overwhelming grief that led to drugs, alcohol and thoughts of suicide.

Players featured in the documentary said they were too scared to speak out about these injustices, because they knew it would be the end of their careers.

In 2006, however, Harris took action and filed charges against Portland, athletic director Tim Curley, and Penn State University, claiming discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation, racism and gender stereotyping.

Harris risked her basketball future in speaking out, because she said she felt that it was more important to make sure it never happened to another player. For that, she is portrayed as a symbol of courage in the documentary.

CU student Devon Dickson, a 19-year-old sophomore integrative physiology major, said she was previously unaware of the discrimination in sports that the documentary highlights.

“I had no idea this was going on,” Dickson said. “And obviously not many people did, with this kind of thing the more people that are aware, the less it can develop.”

After Harris broke her silence, many other players conveyed their traumatizing experiences playing for Rene Portland.

“Every day I went to practice, a little bit of the love and passion I had for the game was taken away from me. And I had a lot of it. But after one year, she had taken it all from me,” said one player in the documentary.

Chelsea Dale, a junior humanities major at CU and student basketball athlete, sat on the panel with Barry that discussed “Training Rules” after the screening. She expressed her thoughts on the documentary to audience members.

“I was shocked that no one stopped what was going on. I was shocked that the NCAA didn’t intervene,” Dale said.

Barry had a similar reaction.

“That was my second time viewing the documentary, and I’m just as moved this time as the first time,” Barry said. “So much intimidation and bullying went on behind closed doors.”

In an address to the panel that included Barry and Dale, an audience member asked the question, “Does this happen at CU?”

Panel members concluded that administrators can’t know everything, because they aren’t at every practice or meeting, but they want to provide awareness on all discrimination issues and have an open door policy at CU that will enable athletes to verbalize when they feel mistreated.

Dale confirmed homophobic practices are still going on.

“Yes, it’s still going on. I was more excited to be a 17-year-old going to college to play basketball than to read into the comments on the issue, but it’s still going on,” Dale said.

Student athletes on the panel gave suggestions as to what straight athletes and students can do to end gay stereotypes.

“Stop using terms like ‘gay’ (as a derogatory term),” Dale said. “It’s offensive and there are other words you can use.”

Jordan Kyle, a senior marketing major at CU and cross country and track athlete, who joined Barry and Dale in addressing the audience, commented on the best approach to creating a non-discriminatory atmosphere on a team.

“If you have a gay athlete on your team don’t treat or look at that person any differently,” Kyle said.

Dickson said the documentary was eye opening in terms of homophobic practices in sports.

“I’m definitely more informed about discrimination discrepancies and would highly recommend this documentary to anyone interested in this phenomenon that goes unnoticed all too often,” Dickson said.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Kendall Schoemann at Kendall.schoemann@colorado.edu.

Taylor Coughlin

Taylor is a senior, serving her sixth semester at the CU Independent. Previously, Taylor was a reporter and copy editor and now serves as entertainment editor. The broadcast news major and German minor recently spent three months in Berlin, Germany studying intensive German. Taylor serves as the public relations director for the CU student group, the Distinguished Speakers Board, which brings speakers to the CU-Boulder community. Taylor is a Colorado native and is passionate about live music, the outdoors and college football. She hopes her degree in broadcast news and experience with public relations will allow her to work within the entertainment industry. She would specifically like to work in the country music industry.

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