STATE COLLEGE – Miles away from State College, Penn State defensive tackle PJ Mustipher stood in solidarity with teammate CJ Thorpe on Sunday as Thorpe shared his experiences as an African American during Sunday’s “Justice for George Floyd Rally.”
From his home in suburban Baltimore, Mustipher not only approved of Thorpe’s challenge for change but said he believes it can catalyze reflection around the country.
“CJ’s speech was beautiful,” Mustipher said on Tuesday. “I think everybody really wanted to hear what he had to say. … CJ is one of the veterans in the locker room; a guy who has been vocal. I think it goes to show you that if guys in locker rooms across the country, and Penn State football can start this conversation and lead this conversation, then I think change can happen everywhere.”
College football players across the nation are preparing to return to their respective campuses ahead of the upcoming season, but what was once excitement for the return has been subdued.
Nationwide protest sparked by the death of Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman has spurred wide-reaching conversations regarding racial, justice and discrimination in America.
The sober reality of bigotry was brought home for Penn State just two weeks ago when Penn State defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins shared on Twitter his experience of being accosted at a gas station by a white man who yelled to Hawkins, “F*** you! You black son of a b****”
Saturday afternoon, Nittany Lions’ football coach James Franklin, who is black, shared a heartfelt statement on Twitter regarding the current state of affairs.
“The direction of our country genuinely concerns me for the health and well-being of the young men I have devoted my life and career to leading,” read a part of Franklin’s eight-paragraph statement. “These young men are future doctors, teachers, broadcasters, lawyers, athletes, fathers and more. The idea that they could have their lives stolen from them before they get a chance to leave their mark on the world is unconscionable.
“It’s these same young men who have a platform to stand upon to remind us all lives deserve to be protected. Black lives, women’s lives, the lives of the sick, elderly, criminal, free ... Every breath; every life is precious.”
Mustipher said members of Penn State’s football community met over the weekend during a roundtable discussion where players, coaches, staff and those connected with the program poured out their thoughts.
“We had an open discussion for everybody in the Penn State family, not just the players and coaches but the staff, as well,” Mustipher said. “We all sat down this past weekend and just opened the floor up to everybody who wanted to say something about this and get everything off their chest. I think it was really beneficial for us because we were able to step back and listen to everyone. It’s important that we do it here, because if we can’t do in our locker room, then it won’t happen anywhere else. … I think discussion during this time is very important.”
While the circumstances that have led to the recent calls for social equality serve as a grim reminder of the discrimination still faced many in the country, Mustipher said he hopes the momentum it’s generated continues and galvanizes every citizen to do their part in making the country inclusive for everyone.
“I don’t just want this to be a one-week, one-month thing,” Mustipher said. “I want this thing to be all year round. I want us to be talking about it. I want us to be doing something in the community. What can we do to change things? I want us to never forget this feeling that we have now because it’s so important when you have tough times. Tough times bring change. Easy times don’t bring change. It sucks that we have to go through this, but it’s important that we remember this feeling we’re having, and we continue to move forward as a country and just put ourselves in the best position to be a country where unity is key.”