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Friday, July 20, 2012
Should Penn State change its uniforms?

By Paul Lukas

Penn State
Penn State's austere uniforms have been a visual signature for years. But is it time for a change?
As the fallout from the Penn State sex abuse scandal continues to rain down on not-so-Happy Valley, several questions have been raised: Should Nike remove Joe Paterno's name from the company's child care center? (Yes, they've done that.) Should anything be done with the Joe Paterno statue on the Penn State campus? (Best suggestion so far: Rotate it 90 degrees so it's looking the other way.) And should Penn State's football program be suspended for this season, or even longer?

Uni Watch
Here at Uni Watch HQ, however, a different question has emerged: Once Penn State starts playing football again -- whether that turns out to be this fall, or next fall, or whenever -- should they redesign their uniforms?

This is an intriguing question on several levels. For starters, for the past several years -- long before the sex scandal broke -- it has been common for uniform fans to speculate as to whether the Nittany Lions would get new uniforms once Paterno eventually retired. After all, the thinking went, the team's austere, no-nonsense look has been widely viewed as a visual extension of Paterno himself for decades, so why not give the next coach a chance to put his own visual stamp on the team?

And besides, it's customary for teams to get new uniforms when entering a new era, whether that's defined by the team getting a new owner, a new stadium or whatever. And if ever there was a team that needed to move ahead into a new era, it's Penn State.

But is that the right approach? If Penn State simply turns the page and moves on -- and if the rest of us, by extension, do the same -- does that just compound the problem?

Silas Redd
One idea: Penn State could make a simple change and reverse the blue and white on the helmet.
For now, these questions don't appear to be on the university's radar, or at least that's the party line. When asked on Thursday about the a potential uniform change in response to the scandal, a Penn State spokesman said, "As of today, the uniforms will be the same as in 2011."

But you know they have to be thinking about it. For any other team, we might say, "Strip them of all their glitz. Teach them some humility by making them wear a plain, generic uniform." But Penn State already wears the plainest, most generic-looking uniform in the sport. What are you going to do -- remove the center stripe from the helmet?

I recently posed this question on the Uni Watch Blog and invited readers to weigh in with their thoughts. Interestingly, opinion was split almost exactly down the middle, with a strong contingent of readers advocating a uniform change and roughly the same number of readers in favor of sticking with the current design. (You can see all of the responses here.)

Both sides made persuasive arguments. The "it's time for a change" arguments were summed up nicely by reader Mike Wissman:

The plain jersey, adorned only with numbers, was supposed to represent the program -- one for all, hard work, a no-frills commitment to winning the right way. Well, that imagery has been exposed as a myth. So given that, I’m all for exploring alternatives. I’m not saying they should go all Nike Pro Combat, but let’s consider starting some new traditions. The old ones aren’t worth celebrating anymore.


On the other side of the debate, the "don't change a thing" people were ably represented by reader Jeff Provo, who checked in with the following:

I really hate to say this, because I’ve been wanting Penn State to change uniforms for years. But in light of this whole situation, I think they shouldn’t be allowed to change. Giving the team a uniform makeover makes it that much easier to sweep this whole thing under the proverbial rug. ... I can understand the idea of "new era, new uniforms, fresh start," but that only works if every single person involved ends up in jail first.


Some readers tried to have it both ways by calling for the current design to be kept, but with the addition of a blue ribbon patch for child abuse victims, or some other small acknowledgment of the scandal.

It's a tricky one, right? Personally, I see merit in each position. But after considerable thought on the matter, the feeling here is as follows:

• Maintaining the current design with zero changes simply is not acceptable. A uniform stands for many things, and making no changes to Penn State's design at this point would stand for continuity, complacency and indifference.

• But the point about a full makeover being just a little too convenient, a little too much of an easy way out, is well taken. Any change to the uniform should be simple, not radical.

• The last thing the uni-verse needs is another ribbon. If you want to get people's eyes to gloss over and have them develop a blind spot, slap another ribbon on your jersey. It's become such a reflexive response to off-field events that it's essentially become no response at all.

• With all of that in mind, here's an excellent suggestion from reader Pete Clark: "One change only -- reverse the blue and the white on the helmet, so it’s a blue helmet with a white stripe. Very subtle, but it says it all. Still extremely conservative as PSU has always been, but a complete reversal, going in a new direction.”

That's pretty good. It's sort of like the uniform version of flying your flag upside-down as a distress signal. That concept gets the official Uni Watch seal of approval. Here's hoping they go in that direction.

Meanwhile, there are some additional uni-related questions to consider here. For example, should the Nittany Lions wear a memorial patch or helmet decal to mark Paterno's death? Or would that be wrong, given what we now know about Paterno?

And then there's this: If you own a Penn State jersey, are you going to keep wearing it? If they change the jersey design, will you buy the new one? Will you defiantly wear the old one? Should the proceeds from all jersey sales go to a group that fights child abuse and sexual assault?

These are all complicated questions with no easy answers. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments. And let's try to keep it civil, right? Right.

Paul Lukas always liked the simplicity of Penn State's uniforms but will never be able to look at them the same way again. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch website, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.