It’s no secret that the game of football has a huge impact on life at Penn State.
This year, the Nittany Lions have drawn crowds of at least 104,000 fans to Beaver Stadium for each of their first three games of the season. Penn State’s record reads “3-0” after those contests, but the team’s ability to create an unmatched sense of unity among fans is perhaps its most significant contribution to the community.
Football has flaws at both the collegiate and professional levels. Its health risks are a major concern — especially for retired players — and some people simply get too invested and take the game too seriously. There’s nothing wrong with spending your weekend watching football games and highlights, but at the same time, the culture surrounding the sport simply isn’t for everybody — and that’s okay.
These valid points of concern have led some to stigmatize football and the culture surrounding the game, but reducing it to just its culture is completely and totally unfair. Before I continue, I feel like I should address my inherent bias in this situation. I’ve closely followed the sport at the NFL and collegiate levels for as long as I can remember, and I want to turn my love for the game into a career in reporting on it.
I’ve been watching football since my dad started taking me to New York Jets games when I was a toddler, but my favorite part of the game has nothing to do with the on-field action. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the exciting, young Penn State offense, Jordan Stout’s cannon of a right leg, or Tariq Castro-Fields’ beautiful, bone-crunching tackles in the open field.
I love football because it has the innate ability to bring people together.
On Saturday, 108,661 people gathered inside Beaver Stadium to watch Penn State take on Pitt for the 100th time.
American society is more polarized and divided today than it’s ever been in my lifetime, so the fact that sports bring that many people together is just beautiful. At Beaver Stadium, people from countless backgrounds with countless beliefs can wear the same colors and logo while cheering for the same team. They can set aside their differences to cheer for the same team and perfectly coordinate a stripe pattern in the stands when asked to:
Our world needs people to be united and together now more than ever. Football obviously won’t solve that problem permanently, but at the same time, it’s capable of getting nearly 109,000 fans to perfectly coordinate a beautiful spectacle like the one at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
For at least a few hours on a warm, cloudy Saturday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of people — including those who didn’t have tickets to the game — were all on the same page. That just doesn’t happen all that often anymore, and its significance shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
Speaking of those who didn’t have tickets, State College transforms from a sleepy college town to a buzzing hub of positive energy and excitement whenever Penn State plays a home football game. There are few environments in this country that match the ones felt on Fridays before home games, and people gather in bars and huddle around living room TVs with their eyes glued to the game throughout town.
Alumni of all ages flock to State College in their favorite blue and white clothes. Recent graduates come back to visit their old college buddies, and older folks come back to reflect on the good old days. Some even return with their husband or wife who they met in Happy Valley, and others bring their kids to show them where they just might end up going to college.
It doesn’t matter how they got there or where they came from — all of them just want to see Penn State win the damn game.
There are pros and cons to everything that exists in this world, but it’s far easier to forgive certain things for their flaws if the positives outweigh them enough.
The game of football has an incredible ability to bring people together. In my opinion, that’s enough reason to forgive the bad that comes with it.
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