I am intrigued with two sports stories that appeared several weeks ago but then vanished almost as quickly as a mall parking spot on Black Friday: those involving WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes and Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland.
Portland, who made no secret in the early 1990s that she discriminated against lesbian players, was accused of doing so recently by a player who was dismissed last season despite being one of the team's top scorers. Meanwhile, Swoopes, the only WNBA player to market her own shoe, disclosed in ESPN The Magazine last month that she is lesbian.
The story about Swoopes demonstrates at least in part why the Portland story hasn't -- and may never -- fully develop. As Dave Zirin points out in an essay in The Nation, Swoopes' revelation was reframed to perpetuate the myth that lesbians in sport are welcome, prominent and well-protected. That kind of framing hides the truth: that lesbians still face blatant discrimination. It remains extremely risky for a lesbian to be honest with her coaches, teammates and the public about her identity.
Thus, lesbian athletes often play in silence, deciding that the price for coming out may be too high. That allows homophobic coaches to continue to discriminate against players they perceive as lesbian. Those players -- even after they're gone -- are often too afraid to come forward.
Thus, the "non-story" continues, helped along by sports journalists who are themselves afraid to pursue the story for fear it will anger coaches on the beats they cover (For instance, it's curious that sports writers at the Centre Daily Times, the paper local to Penn State, haven't written about the controversy.).