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Penn State fines women's basketball coach

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Rene Portland will continue as Penn State's women's basketball coach despite yesterday's finding by university investigators that she violated school policy by creating a ''hostile, intimidating, and offensive environment" around a player she allegedly believed was a lesbian.

Portland, who has won 591 games since then-athletic director Joe Paterno hired her in 1980, will be fined $10,000. She also was ordered to undergo diversity training and warned that she would be fired if she again violated Penn State's guidelines against sex-based discrimination.

Reading a prepared statement and taking no questions at a Bryce Jordan Center news conference yesterday afternoon, a flustered Portland said she would return for a 27th season and called the probe by the university's Office of Affirmative Action ''flawed." She predicted that eventually she would be vindicated.

Meanwhile, the ex-player at the center of the tempest, Jennifer Harris, said she was disappointed in Portland's punishment, which the National Center for Lesbian Rights characterized as ''insulting and inadequate."

Portland, 53, wrung her hands and breathed deeply as she read. She sat alone at a podium in the basement of the arena where her team plays. Her husband, John, a few of her players, and some athletic department staff members also were in the room.

But athletic director Tim Curley was not present, and neither was university president Graham Spanier, who according to a release, has accepted the findings. Both were out of town and unavailable for comment, according to university officials.

The university's response was contained in a three-page announcement handed out to reporters only after Portland exited. It revealed no specifics of the six-month probe but did outline the steps the university was taking to prevent any recurrence. It also noted that the probe found no evidence of racial discrimination on Portland's part.

The investigation grew out of a 2005 federal lawsuit in which Harris claimed she was dismissed from the team because of her race and because Portland mistakenly believed she was a lesbian. Harris is black, and Portland, long a target of gay and lesbian groups who contend she is anti-gay, is white.

''It has always been my belief that all actions taken with respect to the player bringing claims against me were basketball-related only," Portland said. ''I also believe that those decisions were both proper and justified."

The lawsuit, filed on Harris's behalf by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is scheduled for court-ordered mediation May 15 in Harrisburg. Portland, Harris, and Curley are set to testify.

Women's basketball, like many female sports, has long been dogged by speculation about the sexual orientation of its athletes and coaches. Portland has been one of the few prominent figures to take a public stand on the issue.

In 1986, she told a Chicago newspaper that she ''will not have it in my program," speaking about lesbianism. Five years later she reaffirmed her position to The Inquirer.

Since then, a few ex-players, such as Cindy Davies, have spoken out about the methods Portland allegedly employed to purge lesbians from her teams. But the whispers exploded into the public forum late last year when Harris filed her suit in federal court.

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