The Sports Kid Column: Why Aren’t We Talking About the Riot at Penn State?


Bobby Wagner, Managing Editor

Try this: Google the simple phrase, “Penn State,” click the “News” tab and sift through the results that come up.

The first six stories that come up are about Mike McQueary, a former assistant football coach who was awarded $7.3 million in a suit against the university for its defamation against him after his testimony helped in the prosecution of Jerry Sandusky. Half the stories for the next five pages will be about Penn State football’s momentous upset of Ohio State this past weekend. You’ll even find a set of vintage photos from a football game against Syracuse in 1974.

Now try this: keep your Penn State tab open. Open a new tab, Google the word “Baltimore” and click the “News” tab. Click where it says “Recent” and choose “Custom Range.” Set the range from April 18, 2015 to April 25, 2015. See how long it takes you to find the word “riot.” Click back to your Penn State tab. See how long it takes you to find the word “riot.”

Don’t waste too much time sifting through the Penn State results. The first mention of the word “riot” is in a tiny subheader at the bottom of page two. The first actual news article about the riot that occurred at Penn State — from a little-known Pennsylvania sports blog called — won’t appear on your Google search until page four. Here’s the headline for that piece: “Arrests pending after downtown disturbance follows Penn State upset win.”

Some “disturbance” huh?


The headlines from the New York Times for each respective riot are as follows:

  1. “Baltimore Enlists National Guard and a Curfew to Fight Riots and Looting”
  2. “At Least 11 Identified in Damage After Penn St.’s Upset Win”

You actually won’t find a headline that calls what happened after Penn State a riot, outside of its campus newspaper the Daily Collegian (which covered it outstandingly) and — if you specifically Google “Penn State Riot” — the other news update from (which didn’t actually bother to report the event beyond what the Daily Collegian gifted them). Not a whisper from the Washington Post. Not a peep from the Atlantic. Not the slightest acknowledgement from the L.A. Times, or the Seattle Times, or USA Today, or the Chicago Tribune or the New York tabloids. Nothing. Penn State’s on-campus blog, Onward State, actually elected to call Saturday night’s scene a “rally.”

I’m all for a little, actually a lot of, celebration after a big win. I was watching the game on my phone at a party and texting/screaming/crying to my friends who go to Penn State. NYU kids thought I was lost. All this is not to say that the scene at Penn State Saturday night was on par with the scene in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray protests. It was far from it. The damage and destruction is not in the same realm, and Baltimore is a city of exponentially more people than State College, Pennsylvania. No one was severely injured at Penn State. But the police did show up on horseback in riot gear. They did pepper spray a crowd. There were several arrests made.

The rioters and looters in Baltimore were demonized nationwide. Everyone had an absolutely burning take, many of which guilted black people for rioting using the peaceful history of Martin Luther King Jr. Social media ripped protesters who were protesting something real — the non-indictment of a police officer who brutally murdered a black man. Yet, when thousands of drunk college students take to the streets, vandalize their town and get pepper sprayed and broken up by police in riot gear, we call it a “rally” and a “disturbance?”

I wonder if maybe, just maybe, this has something to do with that discrepancy.

Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected].