- (Photo: Penn State)
A T-shirt design that was intended to foster school spirit on the campus of Penn State University has become a center of media-brewed controversy that will likely fizzle out before ever catching fire.
The design, which was selected this year by Penn State students out of about two dozen entries, was created as part of an annual Penn State tradition, during which students don white clothing for a designated football game and fill their 107,282-seat stadium to capacity, thus “whiting out” supporters of the opposing team.
Made by Penn State senior Emily Sabolsky, this year’s winning design appeared on the official 2009 “White Out” shirts, which hit the shelves of the university’s bookstore ahead of this year’s “White Out” game against the University of Iowa.
Though the two-side design looks innocent enough, to some, the combination of the vertical blue stripe running down the center of the shirt’s front side along with the words “Penn State” cutting across the vertical beam appeared reminiscent of a cross.
And to a handful of students, the seemingly religious imagery on the shirt was reason enough to file complaints with the university and even to organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, which in turn contacted Penn State officials.
According to Bill Mahon, vice president of university relations, six people have voiced their objections to Penn State over the shirt design while around 30,000 shirts have so far been sold.
Despite the small number of complaints, the school’s newspaper and even Fox News picked up on the story and brought the alleged controversy into light to the surprise of many Penn State students.
In the responses that followed, a vast majority of students who weighed in on the issue were either supportive or indifferent of the shirt design, including the president of the Penn State Hillel, who told the student-run Collegian newspaper that her group of Jewish students was not going to complain.
“I don't think we have a right to say what [the university] should or shouldn't be doing,” Michal Berns said, though she confessed that she does believe the shirt design does look like a cross.
In three letters that appeared in the Collegian on Monday, students further expressed how laughable the current controversy is and how it’s been blown out of proportion.
“While driving through Centre County, I saw power poles shaped like crosses. Advice to Allegheny Power: You'd better change your design before someone is offended,” wrote Penn State alumnus David Dimmick.
Recent graduate Steve Edling also mocked the current controversy, suggesting sarcastically that it was time to protest that all lowercase t’s be immediately stricken from campus as well.
“From this day forth, the words ‘Penn State’ shall be in all caps or never written at all, because crosses belong at Notre Dame and nowhere else,” he wrote.
Current Penn State student Nick Mangus, meanwhile, stated that one of the reasons why he left his home state of Virginia was “to distance myself from sheer amount of politically-correct shenanigans.”
“Seriously, grow up. Quit making yourselves look like loud-mouthed extremists,” he wrote.
Despite having received complaints, Penn State spokesman Mahon told Fox News that the 2009 “White Out” T-shirts will not be pulled from store shelves and that six complaints “is not a controversy.”
Penn State student Devon Edwards, who blogs on nittanywhiteout.com, also noted how the “issue” is actually a non-issue that it wasn’t an issue until last week.
“I don’t know a single person, Jewish, Christian, atheist, or anything, who objected to this shirt on religious or moral principles, or who took offense to it,” the student blogger wrote Monday.
“Honestly, I think it’s basically people just trying to stir up controversy over something that’s ridiculous,” he added, quoting the letter written by Mangus to the Collegian.
As Edwards noted, there are around 40,000 students at Penn State, an alumni association with close to 150,000 members, as well as countless other Penn State fans scattered across the country.
Penn State's stadium, Beaver Stadium, is largest in the United States, the largest in North America, and the third largest in the world.
On the less controversial side of this year's "White Out" T-shirt, it states “Don't be intimidated ... It's just me and 110,000 of my friends."