Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Penn State Proud

I recently watched a documentary on Logo (home of a lot of great documentaries) about the Penn State Women's basketball team. I am a proud Penn State alum but this documentary didn't give me anything to be proud of. Rene Portland, the basketball coach since the late 70's, was very vocal about her disapproval of lesbian players on her team and actually sabotaged the careers of many young women because of their sexuality. When I was at Penn State, I remember a couple of articles about Ms. Portland but honestly they didn't receive a lot of attention from the student body. The women's basketball team was very successful during my time there(1994-1999). They were regularly in the top ten and had a bigger crowd at their games than the mediocre men's team.

What shocked me the most about the documentary were the multiple negative reports from former student athletes and diversity experts from other universities and organizations that had been ignored by the university . Even more shocking is that Ms. Portland was allowed to continue coaching until 2005 when the public outcry finally reached a level that the university could not ignore. But the most disappointing part for me was that Joe Paterno, Penn State football coach for 40 plus years, was a Portland supporter during all this time. While Portland was going out and telling reporters that lesbians were not allowed on her team, Paterno was giving her awards and singing her praises to all of the university administrators. Any Penn Stater will tell you that the word of Joe Paterno trumps that of the university president becuase he brings more money into the university than any other individual or department.

It is always frustrating when someone who has been built up to be a great person based on the personality traits the media (or I) chose to focus on. Logically, of course I would expect an 80 year old white man to have different political and social views than I do. But Joe Paterno is a college football icon first and an 80 year old man second. I have excused various racist and sexist comments over the years because of who they came from. As I have gotten older, I recognize these comments much quicker and am less likely to let them pass. When I look back on situations that I have been in, I recognize that there were times when I should have spoken up and I didn't.

I don't think I would have boycotted any sports teams if I felt the way I feel now when I was a student. But if a large portion of the student body protested, I might have. Unfortunately, like most big-time sports schools, there is very little that I can imagine happening that would have upset the big money that college football and basketball bring into the university. I still love Joe Paterno and Penn State football but I also recognize that, outside of the public football persona, there probably isn't much to like.

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