Penn State 'Pleased' With NCAA's Decision Allowing Social Justice Statements on Uniforms

Mark Wogenrich

Penn State is "pleased" that the NCAA will allow student-athletes to express themselves on personal or social justice issues with uniform messages and is reviewing how its teams might implement the new policy.

The NCAA said this week that student-athletes can wear patches on the front of their uniforms and nameplates on the back to "celebrate or memorialize people, events or other causes." The patches must be consistent across the team, the NCAA said, but the nameplates can vary by player.

The NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel said the decision allows student-athletes "to express support and voice their opinions."

According to the new rule, Penn State football players will be permitted to wear names or messages on their jerseys. Coach James Franklin removed players' names from the jerseys in 2015. Penn State said it is reviewing the measure.

"We are pleased with the NCAA’s decision to allow student-athletes in all sports to wear patches on their uniforms for commemorative and memorial purposes, as well as to support social justice issues," the athletic department said in a statement. "As we do each year, we will be reviewing all aspects of game day for all 31 of our sports. This review may include items such as uniform patches, game day presentation and pregame activities.

"We will continue to have conversations among all of our teams and support our student-athletes in using their voice and their platform to highlight and promote matters important to our student-athletes, coaches and Intercollegiate Athletics family."

Penn State's nameless football jerseys, a branded part of the program, have made news several times over the past eight years. In 2012, then-coach Bill O'Brien announced that he was adding names to the jerseys for the first time in program history. Penn State played football for 125 years before featuring names on its jerseys.

O'Brien said that he added names to recognize the players who stayed with the program following the NCAA sanctions. Penn State players also wore a blue ribbon on their helmets in support of victims of child abuse.

The uniform names lasted three seasons. Franklin announced in July 2015 that the program would remove them beginning that season.

Franklin said then that he had considered the change during his first year as coach in 2014 but didn't feel that was the right time. He removed the names to embrace Penn State's tradition, he said.

"This program is built on history, tradition, success with honor, all the things we hold so dear to our hearts," Franklin said in 2015. "The fact that we have tradition to embrace, the fact that we have history to embrace and hold onto, I think is valuable. There are programs that would give their right arms to have the history and tradition we have."

Penn State has worn uniform messages before. For single games the past two seasons, the football team has worn "THON" stickers to recognize the student-run organization that benefits pediatric cancer research. Players also have worn an "Uplifting Athletes" patch for the spring Blue-White Game to recognize the organization started by former Penn State football players that benefits rare-disease research.

At the Cotton Bowl in December, Penn State's helmets featured a sticker memorializing the late Wally Triplett, who with teammate Dennie Hoggard were the first Black players to play in the Cotton Bowl. And in 2014, players wore the No. 43 on their helmets to recognize injured linebacker Michael Mauti.

Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said this spring that she supports, with conditions, student-athletes addressing social-justice issues publicly.

"I want them to find and use their voices and I will 100 percent support them even if I don't, and I'm talking generally, necessarily agree with their position if they do several things," Barbour said. "One, that they do it respectfully. Two, that they've done their research, they know what they're talking about and they're educated in the subject that they're using their voice around. And thirdly, that they make sure their coach knows what they're doing."

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