Leave The Urban Meyer Signs At Home

A now poorly worded Nike t-shirt began trending on Twitter hours after Brett McMurphy released his bombshell Facebook post this summer, unearthing a history of domestic violence accusations and charges against former Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith and an alleged cover-up by head coach Urban Meyer.

The shirt read “Urban Meyer Knows” and became an immediate punchline to jokes about the head coach’s culpability. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for the few online retailers still carrying the old shirt to sell out.

It wasn’t hard to see the parallels between the shirt and what has become a rallying cry among fans throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Penn Staters everywhere have spent the last seven years fielding quips about the Sandusky scandal at Thanksgiving dinner, on job interviews, and in Ubers in rival college towns.

Ever since November of 2011, fans of rival universities have yelled “Joe Knew” at football games, parties, and in the comment section, somehow equating the tragedy of the Sandusky scandal to a fault of the entire Penn State community.

The resemblance between the two slights is almost laughable. Both reduce victims’ sobering hardships to a simple sentence and a matter of who knew what instead of the issues at hand. Urban Meyer and Joe Paterno certainly aren’t morally excused because they weren’t the ones committing the crimes. But these slights diffuse responsibility and shift the public’s general frustration, disapproval, and awareness away from the true case of injustice and onto an institution or, in this case, a football program.

As Penn State fans, we’ve seen how making tragedies and scandals almost exclusively about the person with the biggest name doesn’t solve issues. We’ve met people from other universities who call Penn State a cult led by Joe Paterno. We’ve even bemoaned the constant backhand disses every time we meet someone who knows only the most basic details of the scandal and its fallout.

Yet, here we are — turning a recurring history of domestic violence into a punchline that we think will get us retweets and airtime.

Seven years after the darkest hours of our university, many are making light of a similar situation, just because we aren’t supposed to like the school the perpetrator worked at and because his boss is at best disingenuous and at worst a key player in institutionalized ignorance.

I am far from someone who makes light of college football rivalries. I hate Ohio State and think it’s an embarrassment to college football that Meyer is able to continue representing his university and coaching young adults after a summer of botched media appearances when he failed to demonstrate any genuine sympathy for Courtney Smith and other victims.

Instead, he apologized only to Buckeye Nation at first, which I suppose pays the bills at the end of the day.

Those insensitive public addresses capture the root of the problem. Sports extend well beyond the playing field and often to lengths and allegiances that become dangerous.

Sure, it’s great to share the camaraderie of Penn State football with an alum who graduated 20 years before you were born and to have something worth cheering for every Saturday afternoon. But sometimes, the lines blur and we adopt a mob mentality. It comes in the form of rioting in Beaver Canyon after a big win, cursing at referees, and making jokes about serious situations and topics we probably wouldn’t trivialize on our own.

Unfortunately, there will be plenty of “Urban Liar” signs and jokes in poor taste on Old Main Lawn this weekend on College GameDay. ESPN uses a broad policy that reserves the right to remove “offensive, vulgar, inappropriate or solicitation signage,” so when you inevitably use your limited artistic and creative abilities to make signs about Meyer, don’t expect them to even make it on air. Last year at GameDay before the game against Michigan, ESPN needed to confiscate signs about the water in Flint, Michigan. 

The lesson learned from the Smiths’ saga and the Sandusky scandal shouldn’t be that football coaches should be better at reporting incidents involving their staff members. Unfortunately, there is a broken system in place that leaves a gap between what is right and what is “protocol,” which is why Meyer is allowed to run onto the field tomorrow night.

Our takeaway should be that we have a responsibility to think about the situations not just at hand but as greater issues recurring, because every year, there are 10 million Courtney Smiths.

Until we recognize that, we’ll remain blinded by the mob mentality of pledging allegiance to a sports team and group’s norms over what we think is right. And we’ll never truly be ready for much-needed societal change.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected]. All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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