Penn State’s Lamont Wade never has been bashful about expressing his opinions about social injustice, on Twitter or anywhere else, a stand that goes back to his freshman year, when he posted a YouTube video giving his views on First Amendment rights, police killings, and being harassed just for being black.
Now a senior safety and a leader of the Nittany Lions, the outspoken Wade spent Memorial Day weekend trying to come to grips with two highly publicized incidents: an African American man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, and a white woman who called police after a black man asked her to put a leash on her dog in New York’s Central Park.
And closer to his team, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins reported on Twitter that he was involved Saturday in a tense confrontation with a white man while pumping gas in Ohio on his way home to Cincinnati.
“I feel like a lot of people really don’t see things from a certain perspective all the time,” Wade said Tuesday in a Zoom conference call with reporters. “I feel like it’s really good to have perspective on any situation through different lenses.
“Specifically in these situations that happen a lot and occur over and over again, I just feel like it’s important for people to understand how some people feel whenever they feel like they’re supposed to be protected, but it kind of seems like the opposite is happening.”
Wade said the two incidents Monday “happened so fast [that] I haven’t really wrapped my head around everything to even make a remark on it yet, to be completely honest.”
He said that talking to teammates about what happened is “one thing we’re really trying to emphasize right now during this time. I know it could be hard for some people to try to do that.”
Wade said he spoke with Hawkins the day before the lineman left State College to return to Cincinnati and reached out for a brief conversation after the gas-station incident. Hawkins wrote on Twitter about a “hostile experience with a white man” during which the man cursed and stared at him before driving away.
Wade said Hawkins followed the teachings of Penn State head coach James Franklin.
“He always emphasizes handling ourselves the right way,” Wade said. “whether it’s in public, wherever it’s at, knowing that when we do something, it’s for us first, for our last name, and then the university. We always have to take that into consideration. With the type of guy Aeneas is, that’s what he did. He showed courage by doing it.”
Wade, of Clairton in Western Pennsylvania, enjoyed his best season last year, his first as a safety. He started all 13 games, finished fourth on the team in tackles, including 4½ for loss, and made All-Big Ten honorable mention. He drew nationwide attention for his performance against No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus, where he forced three fumbles and recovered one.
He knows some members of Nittany Nation don’t agree with his opinions, but he thinks “it’s just real important to realize what brings us together instead of what separates us or divides us.”
He said later, however, that he doesn’t fear the possibility of repercussions for what he says, quoting Kurt Cobain, the late front man for the rock group Nirvana.
“He said, ‘I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not,’ ” Wade said. “That’s kind of how I put my life up around, because I’d rather be me and everyone in the world hates me for me being me than me trying to be somebody I’m not and getting the love of millions.”
The father of a 2-year-old boy, Wade said he is grateful for being able to spend “the most time with [him] since he was born,” since the campus is closed because of the pandemic. He said he hopes his child grows up not having to deal with as much “evil doings.”