If ever there was a film that needed a warning sticker on the package for “inducing possible outrage,” Training Rules is it. A documentary about the infamously homophobic head coach of Penn State Women’s basketball, Rene Portland, and her witch hunts against student athletes she suspected to be gay, it’s a powerful, righteously angry production.
Produced and directed by Dee Mosbacher and Fawn Yacker, it stands as one of the strongest documentaries about homophobia in women’s sports that we’ve ever seen.
During her 23-year reign, Coach Portland’s not-so-secret policies were among the longest standing and most openly hateful in the world of athletics. Her training rules were as insidious as they were simple: “No drinking. No drugs. No lesbians.”
The film wastes no time getting started. After a few quick sound bites from ex-players and Penn State employees, we begin with the central narrative arch that originally sparked Mosbacher and Yacker’s interest. In 2005, Jennifer Harris — then a leading scorer for the Penn State Lady Lions, was unceremoniously kicked off of the team. In 2006, she filed charges against Portland — and the school — for discrimination based on sexual orientation.
We’re not talking about a “benchwarmer” or a lazy player. Harris was a starter — a former track star and basketball prodigy who had been named one of the top 20 women’s basketball players in the entire country as a high schooler. She had a very real shot at the WNBA, until Portland put the kibosh on her hoop dreams prematurely.
Training Rules is basically Harris’ story — but thanks to a legal settlement, she can’t actually be a part of the telling. That doesn’t stop the filmmakers from getting her side. Her parents are interviewed extensively, and they make excellent use of ESPN interview footage of Harris, filmed shortly after she initially filed charges.
“I told her that I thought it was because she thought I was gay.” A soft-spoken, yet defiant Harris tells the camera. “She told me, ‘You know my views on that’ and ‘I’m not changing’, and ‘I’m still going to be the coach of Penn State and you’ll still be gone.’” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.