For 27 years, Broomall native Rene Portland ran the women's basketball program at Penn State. In recent years, the coach's impressive won-lost record has been overshadowed by allegations of a punitive "no-lesbians" policy that she exercised over her teams.
Training Rules, Dee Mosbacher's withering documentary, examines the personal toll that institutional intolerance can exact.
The focus of the film is on Jennifer Harris, a smooth-shooting guard from Harrisburg and a former Lady Lion who filed a discrimination suit against Portland, the university, and its athletic director in 2005 after her basketball scholarship was pulled.
Portland resigned in 2007, two months after the suit was settled. It carried the provision that Harris refrain from discussing the case.
That gag order is what really hamstrings this film. Harris is permitted to speak in only the most general terms about her experiences. And Portland, who won three national titles as a player for tiny Chester County powerhouse Immaculata University, is seen only in recruiting and pep-talk footage.
You never gain a sense of Portland's mentality or why the question of her players' sexuality might seem so momentous to her.
Other former players who endured abrupt and ugly exits from Penn State's basketball team are interviewed. One of them conjectures that the coach seemed to view lesbianism as a contagion that would sweep through the locker room if allowed to take root.
The film does establish the power wielded by a successful Division I athletic program. Complain, and you'll never see playing time again.
Portland's prejudice was first publicly broached in a 1986 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, when she said of coaching gay players, "I will not have it."
It was a 1991 article in The Inquirer by Jere Longman that really exposed the issue, sparking on-campus protests and saddling the university with an ongoing public relations migraine.
Mosbacher, who received an Oscar nomination for Straight From the Heart, her 1994 documentary about gay children in deeply religious families, has thoroughly made her case about 10 minutes into Training Rules.
The rest of the film is a succession of talking heads.
In an effort to broaden the film's scope, she tries unsuccessfully to tie Portland's attitudes into the pressure on female athletes in the post-Title IX era to present themselves as girly girls.
Training Rules is earnest and exhaustive, but its tight focus makes it feels less like a documentary and more like a segment on HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.
** (out of four stars). Tonight at 7 at the Ritz East, tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. at the Bridge. Directed by Dee Mosbacher. 57 mins. No MPAA rating.