The following was submitted by Penn State linebacker and Uplifting Athletes President Ben Kline as an open letter to Nittany Nation.
The organic love of a group of student athletes for both sport and school is an underestimated power. It is this that propelled our athletic program to the upper echelon of collegiate athletics, and this that brought our school out of some of the darkest times that a university has ever known.
The purity of collegiate athletes is what separates college athletics from all others and makes it beautiful. As student athletes, we make our impact on a university before the corrupting influences of wealth and power take over our ambitions. It is the athlete, therefore, that is the steward of a university’s athletic department. It is the athlete who is the purist manifestation of the ideal of collegiate athletics — an ideal that states that the honor of representing one’s university on the field of play is more than enough compensation for the sacrifices necessary to fulfill that role. We don’t have salaries, bonuses, contract negotiations, and buyout clauses. There are no endorsements to be made, no checks to collect. There is simply the opportunity to positively represent our university on the field of competition, and to simultaneously chase our personal dreams. For us, this is enough. This is what matters.
Football is a game that is built on the backs of players. It is built on the backs of the men who battle between the lines on game day, not the men who roam the sideline or sit in the press box. No matter how influential, legendary, or brilliant a coach may be, without the performance and production of the players on the field, none of a coach’s achievements are possible, nor is the potential of the team fulfilled. Penn State Football has been fortunate enough to be led by great coaches in the past. I myself was fortunate enough to play for two of them, one an unquestioned legend and the other a brilliant leader. Their contributions to our football program cannot be overstated. However, both of the aforementioned coaches could not have achieved any of their accomplishments without the players whom they oversaw.
The standard among Penn State Football Players will never change. Toughness, Resiliency, Competitiveness — these are the traits that Penn State Football is known for. This is not by accident. This is the standard that has been created by the players of the past, and passed down to the current players. This is the standard that will be passed on to future players. This standard is what motivates me, and I know it is what motivates many of my teammates. At the end of the day, this is what makes Penn State Football great, because this is the lifeblood of our football program. Coaches will come and go. Fear not. The roots of Penn State Football are far too deep to allow the whirlwinds of staff changes to shake us. This program is built and maintained by the players. Our great lettermen have established the standard. We will continue to try to live up to it, and see that it is passed on.
We will not let this program falter. I know my teammates, and I know the resiliency and competitive spirit that burns inside each and every one of us. I know the pride that we feel towards this University, and the love that we feel towards this fan base. We will not let this generation of players be known as the group that let Penn State Football fade into the shadows of inadequacy. We will not allow the tradition to dwindle, or the standard to fall.
When we made our commitment two years ago, it was not to a coach. It was to a University. It was to a football program. It was to every letterman who came before us, and to every fan who has ever cheered for the Blue and White. It was to our teammates, to the fraternity of the locker room. This is where our commitment lies, and this will not change. Penn State Football is far bigger than one person, one team, one generation. Our commitment is to Penn State Football.
Rest easy, Nittany Nation. I know the men who constitute our locker room, the men who go to war on Saturdays in the fall, the men who sweat and bleed for this program year round. Our football program is in good hands, no matter who the coach is. It always has been. It always will be.