After all they’ve been through the last few years, Penn State football fans have developed a pretty thick collective skin. But what happened before a road game at Rutgers last season tested that.
In the parking lot at High Point Solutions Stadium, some Scarlet Knight fans were seen wearing “Ped State” T-shirts. They clearly referenced the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. A mock Penn State banner was flown, featuring stick figures engaged in a sex act.
It all prompted a public apology from RU athletic director Julie Hermann, who called them the “regrettable actions of a handful of Rutgers fans.” She also apologized to Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour via phone.
The Scarlet Knights visit the Nittany Lions Saturday, in a game that kicks at 8 p.m. Regardless of what happened before the game in Piscataway, N.J., last season, Barbour is encouraging — and expects — Penn State fans to rise above it this year.
"My expectations from Penn State fans are exactly what they’ve always demonstrated, which is — with few exceptions, and there are always exceptions to everything — but with few exceptions, Penn State fans conduct themselves in a really first-class way,” she said. “It’s about their team — concentrating on their team and not worrying about what somebody from another team is saying or doing.
“And certainly not directing derogatory things at the opponent, but concentrating on our team and our traditions and the connections that we’re making with each other,” she added. “(That’s) what a football game day — whether home or away — is all about for a Penn State fan.”
She also said she appreciated the way Hermann responded to the issues last year, which coincided with the Scarlet Knights’ first-ever Big Ten football game.
“In terms of the particular banner that was flying, that’s one bad apple,” Barbour said. “I do know there were a number of concerns about our fans’ experience at Rutgers. But I think Julie Hermann certainly addressed those and — both individually and collectively — issued a very sincere apology. It’s about creating a culture that’s been exhibited here for a long time.”
Of course, Rutgers enters this game dealing with its own high-profile issues. Head coach Kyle Flood has been suspended for three games (including this one) for improperly contacting a professor on behalf of a player. Also, six players have been suspended from the team recently following legal issues.
Barbour’s advice to Penn State fans is to focus on their own program, and to not worry about what’s going on with the Scarlet Knights.
“Let’s have it be about Penn State, let’s support our team, let’s be very positive about it,” she said. “Let’s block out anything from an opponent’s standpoint and let’s focus on Penn State.”