Okay, so it’s no secret that some people are upset with the NCAA for the sanctions handed down to Penn State University for its handling (or lack thereof) of the the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal. Some think the NCAA overreached in fining the school $60 million, taking away scholarships, banning the Nittany Lions from bowl games for 4 years and vacating all the team’s wins from 1998 through 2011, among other penalties.
Now, those angry at the NCAA can take part in a time-honored facet of free speech: the snarky t-shirt.
Thursday was Media Day at Penn State, and after getting my interviews with new Coach Bill O’Brien and this year’s players, I headed downtown to visit the Student Book Store on East College Avenue. There, hanging amongst the other PSU apparel and various tchotchkes, was a blue t-shirt with bright white lettering. NCAA, it reads…except the “C” is a Soviet-era hammer and sickle.
Under the letters…”NATIONAL COMMUNIST ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION.”
Yeah, some people are really mad.
The shirt itself is not licensed by Penn State, and since it doesn’t mention the words “Penn State” or “Nittany Lions,” there’s not much the university can do about it. Additionally, the Student Book Store is an independent entity. They can display and sell whatever they wish. That being said, I do wonder what will happen the first time Penn State President Rodney Erickson sees a student walking around campus in this shirt, which sells for 15.99-17.99. The shirt was still available for sale on the Student Book Store’s website as of Friday morning.
The back of the shirt elaborates on the anti-NCAA sentiment: “OVERSTEPPING THEIR BOUNDS AND PUNISHING THE INNOCENT SINCE 1906.”
To be clear, I don’t think anyone who wears this t-shirt believes that any of the principle players named in the Freeh Report are necessarily “innocent.” Rather, I conclude that the reference is to the fans and the players remaining on the Nittany Lions roster, who will have to fight major uphill battles to enjoy even a modicum of success on the field in the coming years, given the harsh sanctions the school will endure.
Still, one critical question needs to be asked: is this the message PSU fans want to put out there right now…or ever?
The graphic on the shirt includes the website getsmack.com, which takes you to a business known as Smack Apparel. Their website features various other sports-related shirts with similar cutting or biting sarcasm (some are more clever than others). It strikes me as a company that knows how to make a quick buck when a controversy surfaces.
If I may, one piece of free advice for anyone who buys this shirt: DON’T wear it to Penn State games this fall. This is exactly the kind of thing ESPN’s cameras will be looking for in and around the stadium. Don’t make it easy for them. Take the high road and realize that humility is more appropriate now than defiant anger. Coach Bill O’Brien and every player I spoke to on Thursday showed me that the team is moving forward with grace and humility. All of Penn State country should follow their example.
(Brad Christman is the News Director for Radio Pennsylvania, a statewide service providing news and sports programming to radio stations across the Commonwealth)