With widespread protests of racial injustice taking place across the country following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, Penn State coach James Franklin decided to call together the members of his football program last weekend for a meeting on Zoom.
It wasn’t just the 100-plus players on his team and his coaches. All the Nittany Lions support staff was able to participate to discuss what has happened and what can be done to change the culture.
“It included Caucasian women, African American men, white men, so many different people,” junior defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “It was just that the floor was so open for everybody discussing. People were so comfortable and people were also able to voice what they felt.
“It was just a beautiful thing to see. We’re always so worried about football. We’re always so worried about what’s going on in our life. But we take a step back and we really see what’s going on around us and how we can change everything. I think that was the main message of what was going on, that we can make a difference.”
Mustipher, who is African American and lives in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Md., said he couldn’t single out one idea as being the most impactful. He called it “really beneficial” to take a step back and listen to everyone.
He said there is more to being an African American football player at Penn State than representing your family, your university, and your teammates.
“You also represent young African American kids who aspire to be in our positions down the road,” he said. “So 20 years down the road, I don’t want kids to feel like they don’t have a voice. I don’t want them to feel like they can’t say what they want to say. We do have to walk a tightrope in what we say, but at the end of the day, we are able to voice our opinions.
“That’s what’s important to me when I’m going through all of this. I want to be a representative of what to do for kids who want to be in my position, and I want to do it in the correct way.”
He also gives credit to Franklin, who released a statement last Saturday discussing the recent killings of Floyd and two other African Americans, for allowing the players to speak their minds and reaching out to them for conversations.
“That’s what’s so important about Coach Franklin,” he said. “He’s going to love us, whether it’s the tough love he gives us on the field or whether it’s putting an arm around us when things are difficult. He’s always going to be there for us.”
Although he wasn’t in State College on Sunday when hundreds of people marched in a “Justice for George Floyd” rally, Mustipher said he watched a video of a speech delivered by his teammate, redshirt junior guard C.J. Thorpe.
“The system was not created to help us,” Thorpe said. “It wasn’t for us, it wasn’t built for us. We have to take it back. I’m not calling for violence. I’m calling for this [assembly] right here, what we’re doing coming together, using the power of the people.”
Mustipher said that thanks to Thorpe’s message, he hopes Penn State football can lead the conversation and be joined by “guys in locker rooms across the country” to foster change. His stronger wish is to continue the conversation for longer than one week or one month.
“I want us to never, never forget this feeling that we have right now because it’s so important,” he said. “When you have tough times, sometimes they bring change. Easy times don’t really bring change. So I think it’s important.
“It [stinks] 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 in a country where unity is key.”
In the meantime, Mustipher continues to work out at his home and looks forward to next week. Thursday night, the university announced a phased approach for 75 of its football players to return to campus Monday, with those who have been medically cleared permitted to begin voluntary workouts June 15.