It’s what we roar at every Nittany Lion sporting event. It’s the cry we hear across the world when we wear Penn State attire and are spotted by a fellow Penn Stater. It’s who we are. “We are…Penn State!”
Used to rouse Nittany Lion spirit today, many Penn Staters believe the cheer originated before the Civil Rights Movement, with a group of Nittany Lion football players in 1946 and 1947. On that team, black and white students played side by side during a time when segregation prevailed in some parts of the United States.
“We are Penn State. We play all or none.”
Penn State, whose mixed-race roster caused a stir among some universities, was scheduled to play the University of Miami in 1946. Miami requested that Penn State only bring their white players to the game.
The players, who had formed a strong bond throughout the season, decided as a team that either everyone would play or no one would play, and canceled the game. “We are Penn State. We play all or none” is the phrase credited to team captain Steve Suhey—some think this is the birth of today’s cheer.
The players were “a group who stood up for civil rights out of loyalty to the bonds they forged on a football field, a group with such an inextricable bond that they rose above the tensions and preconceptions and prejudices of the era,” writes Penn State alum Michael Weinreb in an article for the Penn Stater.
Whether or not this is the phrase’s origin, the story is powerful. And Black History Month is the perfect time to remember it and reflect on what it means to be a Penn Stater.
Read Weinreb’s article, “Men among Lions,” from the November/December 2009 issue of the Penn Stater.