Penn State announced on Tuesday afternoon that its iconic uniforms would be getting a bit of a tuneup. According to the school, the uniforms will bear a blue ribbon in support of survivors of child abuse. Additionally, the uniforms will bear players' names, and on that one...look out.
Here's more on each change, via the Big Ten Network:
“The Penn State community stands with all victims of child abuse,” said Acting Athletic Director David Joyner. “Coach Bill O’Brien and his football team made it clear they want to support victims and bring more awareness to this issue, which affects so many.”
“I’m proud that our players want to be part of the University’s efforts to help victims of child abuse,” O’Brien said. “We hope our fans join us in wearing blue ribbons to all Penn State home games. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of children everywhere.”
Coach O’Brien says after speaking with some members of the team, they made the decision together to add names to the uniforms. Players indicated the names on their jerseys also mean they will hold each other accountable to uphold the traditions of Penn State football, both on and off the field.
“We want our fans to know and recognize these young men,” O’Brien said. “They have stuck together during tough times, and I commend them for the leadership they have shown. Moving forward, I’m deeply committed to honoring Penn State’s traditions, while building a bright future for our football program.”
This is Penn State. The no-name jersey thing is, well, their thing. It's grounded in ideals like selflessness and teamwork. Heck, the in-stadium video reels even open up with, "There is no name on my jersey."
So for some Penn State fans, taking that away can feel like taking away a part of Penn State's lore, its connection with the dominant teams of old and everyone who excelled on that field decades before. It's a tradition, and when you take away tradition out of nowhere, fans probably aren't going to react positively.
At the same time, though, here's the deal. Every season is a new season. Football marches inexorably onward every fall. Uniforms change all the time. And before PSU fans say "except for ours"—that includes Penn State's.
The Helmet Project lists three different helmets that have been worn by the Nittany Lions over the last 40 years. Penn State's own website chronicles the history of uniform changes for the team, and there's 19 pictures worth (12 of which are post-WWII). Are they minor alterations? Over the last 60 years, yes, mostly. But they're still changes.
Essentially every other program puts names on the backs of its jerseys, and college football hasn't crumbled beneath the weight of egotism and showboatsmanship (new word alert) as a result. That won't happen at Penn State either.
But if Penn State fans have a bigger problem with names on the back of players' jerseys than the Nike logo creeping onto the front, then perhaps it's they—not the football team or athletic program—that need to reexamine their priorities. And if they can't enjoy a football game for what it is in 2012 rather than having everyone dress as close to 1963 uniforms, well, that's borderline depressing.