An open door gains lesson, friend
September, 1981 — I had just settled into Lyons Hall during my second day at Penn State’s main campus (my dream school, and the only college to which I applied), fresh from a relatively non-descript, safe and clean-cut upbringing in Hollidaysburg.
I was laying on my bed that afternoon with my dorm room door open, blasting Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” on my grandma’s hand-me-down record player console when all of a sudden I looked up and saw someone poke his head inside my doorway.
All I could see was his hair — picture the “afro” hairstyle sported by Julius Erving, “Dr. J.,” in his prime. The first words he spoke to me that day are still indelibly burned in my mind almost 40 years later: “Damn, I thought there was a brother in here!”
I was, frankly, scared to death.
Growing up, we had precisely one African-American family in Hollidaysburg. There was a certain unspoken understanding in my family that we steer clear of them. I had never met a black person in my life, let alone been forced to carry on a conversation with one.
I swallowed hard, invited him in, and we spent the next several hours talking basketball, football and baseball and listening to the Commodores, Kool & The Gang, The Gap Band and Michael Jackson.
Over the next year, we must have played Eddie Murphy’s legendary comedy album 500 times, memorizing every joke and character down to the last word.
Needless to say, my new acquaintance and I became fast friends. Imagine that — a white kid from Hollidaysburg and a black kid from inner city Philadelphia, who formed a common bond over our love of Philip Bailey and sports.
I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that story, having told it more times than I can remember. I don’t consider myself any sort of role model or expert on racial integration. But I can state with absolute certainty that my baseless fear of African-Americans as a young adult was primarily due to my lack of exposure to their race and culture.
Put more bluntly, it was borne of ignorance.
Which brings me to David Petersen and his letter to Penn State football player Jonathan Sutherland. I would never presume to label Petersen a racist simply based upon the content of his letter.
I don’t know what’s in his heart, and neither do the thousands of people who have weighed in on social media at this point. But I can surmise, given his age, domicile, and certain “buzz words” contained in his letter and subsequent comments to the media, that Petersen most likely suffers from the same lack of exposure, experience and tolerance as I did during the 18 years prior to that fateful encounter in my Penn State dorm room.
I’m not angry at Petersen — I simply feel very sorry for him.
If being quite honest, I’m not crazy about tattoos, but if one of my daughters gets one, I’m not going to love them any less. And, if they ever bring home a boyfriend with dreadlocks, all I can say is he better know the words to “September.”
PSU entry process needs attention
I’d like to comment about the fans’ entry into Beaver Stadium last Saturday.
It was a total debacle.
I enter through Gate D (north end zone). They usually have three gates on each side and maybe six gates in the middle of Gate D. The first gates are for security (wand used for metal detection), and the next line is for scanning of ticket.
I got to the middle gate at 1130 a.m. for the noon start against Purdue, and waited in line only to then notice that there was no one there wanding fans in those six or so gates. Fans then had to go to the side gates (only three open on each side) for entry.
I got to my seat with nine minutes left in the first quarter, and Penn State was already leading 14-0.
I heard and saw on social media that the same thing happened at all other gates across the stadium.
You would think, in light of the parking delays and disgruntled fans, that they would try make the gameday experience more hassle free, but that wasn’t the case last Saturday.
This all falls on Sandy Barbour.