Faculty from colleges across Penn State collaborate on activities, events and research under the auspices of the Penn State Center for the Study of Sports in Society.
November 15, 2019 A Conversation on Sport and Race Relations at Penn State: Reconsidering the Past and Reimagining the Future
When: Friday, November 15, noon to 1:30
Where: Penn State Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium
On autumn Saturdays in “Happy Valley” tens of thousands of people file past a sign at the southwestern corner of Beaver Stadium, the massive football cathedral that towers over Penn State’s campus. The sign, a university historical marker non-descript enough to miss for even the un-inebriated among the hundreds of thousands of fans milling about in front of the Penn State Sports Museum on game days, heralds Penn State’s “Champions for Equality.” The marker recounts not Penn State’s myriad gridiron victories or national championship claims but contends that “Dear Old State” played a central role in the Civil Rights struggle. “Demonstrating that sport can be a powerful force for social change, Penn State led the way in breaking the color barrier in the intercollegiate football in the South,” the white script proclaims against a blue background.
As the marker reveals, Penn State does indeed have a long history of intersections between sport and racial relations, not all of them as uplifting or path-breaking as the “Champions for Equality” marker proclaims—as the recent fracas over dreadlocks, tattoos, and alumni sensibilities underscores. On November 1, 1969, at halftime of a Penn State versus Boston College football game, African American student leaders took the field and addressed 48,000 Nittany Lion fans about several racial problems that plagued black students on campus. Instead of celebrating these messengers as emissaries of the “Champions of Equality,” Penn State fans booed them lustily and stomped their feet loudly to drown out the speakers. Criticized for politicizing a sporting event, the student leaders responded that the Penn State community ignored them in every other venue on campus expect for athletic spaces. ““Since we cannot reach you at any other place, we find it necessary to come to a football game and ask you to think as members of the academic community,” the protestors declared.
A half-century after protestors condemned the racial climate at Penn State during a 1969 football game, African American athletes remain the most visible black students on campus and race relations in “Happy Valley” remain complicated and sometimes conflicted. The 50th anniversary of the football protests offers an invitation to reflect on the past, illumine the present, and think about the future. Penn State’s John Affleck, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism will moderate a conversation on sport and race at Penn State featuring an academic analysis and a personal experience. Wally Richardson, the first African American quarterback at Penn State to achieve major success on the field who has also served the football program in a variety of capacities off the field, from academic counselor to executive director of the Letterman’s Club will reflect on his experiences at Penn State. Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor in the Department of History and the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, a specialist in race, gender, and sort, will offer her expertise. Mark Dyreson, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and the director of research and educational programs for PSU’s Center for the Study of Sports in Society, who is currently working on a history of race and sport and Penn State with one of his former graduate students, Sara Roser-Jones, will offer a historical perspective on the complex history of Penn State’s “Champions of Equality.”
This event is co-sponsored by the Penn State Center for the Study of Sports in Society and the Penn State Sports Museum
South Carolina native Wally Richardson, starred at quarterback for Penn State in the 1995 and 1996 seasons, leading the Nittany Lions to a 20-5 record and bowl game victories over Auburn (1996) and Texas (1997). While Richardson was not the first African American quarterback to start at Penn State–in 1970 Mike Cooper started the first five games of the season but was benched after Penn State lost four of them–Richardson was the first to achieve significant success on the field. Following his stellar Penn State career Richardson played several seasons in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons, as well as stints in the XFL and the Arena Football League. A stellar student at Penn State, he was an Academic All-Big Ten selection three times and earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship.
After retiring from football, Richardson returned to Penn State and served as a counselor for the Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes. In 2007 Richardson moved to the University of Georgia and took a position as the Associate Director of the Rankin Smith Student-Athlete Service Center. He returned once again to Penn State and took his current position as the executive director of the Football Letterman’s Club—an organization with 1000 dues-paying members that serves the Penn State football community.
Amira Rose Davis
Amira Rose Davis is an assistant professor on History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State. A twentieth-century U.S. historian who earned her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 2016, she focuses her research on race, gender, sports and politics. Currently working on her first book manuscript entitled, “Can’t Eat a Medal”: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow, Dr. Davis has published several essays on race, gender, and sport in American culture and is co-host of a popular podcast on sport entitled “Burn It All Down.”
John Affleck serves as the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State. A veteran journalist with long careers in both news and sports, he worked as a reporter, editor, and national manager at the Associated Press before joining the Penn State faculty where he currently heads Penn State’s sports journalism program. He writes extensively on the role of sport in contemporary society for major national outlets.
Mark Dyreson is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and the director of research and educational programs at Penn State’s Center for the Study of Sports in Society. He has been a member of Penn State’s history and philosophy of sport program since 1998 and has published more than a dozen books and more than one hundred journal articles and book chapters on the role of sport in societies. He is currently the managing editor of the International Journal of the History of Sport, the co-editor of the Routledge Press Sport in Global Societies: Historical Perspectives book series, and a fellow of the National Academy of Kinesiology.