Wally Triplett, RIP

Wally Triplett died in Detroit earlier this month. He was 92 years old, and both an American and Penn State athletic hero:

Wally Triplett became the first African-American to start on the Penn State Nittany Lions, play in a bowl game, and be drafted by the NFL, where he set multiple records. He was a key inspiration for Penn State’s iconic “We Are” chant, which came to signify unity as Penn Staters in the face of racial segregation.

Kevin Horne wrote on “Wally Triplett and the Men of ‘47” earlier this year:

Triplett’s modesty is a tenant of his personality today, as it has been for virtually all of his 91 years on this earth. But those now-weathered eyes witnessed one of the most beautiful Penn State stories ever told—one in which he was the central figure, transcending the bounds of time and, even if not the literal inspiration, embodying the meaning behind the phrase “We Are Penn State.”

The story is told in two-parts. Triplett saw limited playing time in 1945—becoming, along with Dennie Hoggard, the first African-American to take the field for Penn State—and earned a varsity letter in 1946, also the first black player to do so for the Nittany Lions. Triplett made the switch from tailback to wingback early in the 1946 season and was the team’s most adept kick returner.

But Wally Triplett is defined more by the game he didn’t play than the ones that he did.

Triplett first felt trouble when he noticed that familiar name on the team schedule after he returned to campus in the fall of 1946. The University of Miami, the same school that revoked his scholarship less than two years prior because of the color of his skin, was scheduled for a home game against Penn State on November 29.

Not only did Miami not let black players on its team but, like many southern schools, did not even allow black players on its fields with visiting teams. Miami officials alerted Penn State that traveling with Triplett and Hoggard might prove problematic. The situation gnawed at Triplett — Penn State had a solid squad that year, with only one 3-point loss to Michigan State mid-way through the season and were poised to make a run at a postseason bowl.

Triplett has recounted what happened next hundreds of times. As the legend goes, the team met at Old Main to discuss the situation. They knew of Miami’s stance that bringing Triplett and Hoggard on the trip would make it, as their officials put it, “difficult for them to carry out arrangements for the game.”

The team discussed the situation and held a vote. It wasn’t close. A revote was held, however, so that the few holdouts could make it unanimous. “There was no second thought,” voter Joe Sarabok recalled to the Penn Stater.  Penn State would bring all of its players, or it would not play at all.

The dean of the School of Physical Education and Athletics, Dr. Carl Schott, relayed the team’s decision to the Daily Collegian in the November 6, 1946 newspaper:

“We recently advised the University of Miami that two colored boys are regular members of the Penn State football squad,” Scott said, “and that it is the policy of the College to compete only under circumstances which will permit the playing of any or all members of its athletic teams.”

There would be no game. It would not be rescheduled.

“I call it ‘that team’,’” Triplett recalled during a visit to the All Sports Museum in 2009. “The tradition of leaving your colored players at home was going to be tolerated no more.”

To add to the mythology, it is said that All-American captain Steve Suhey, the coach’s future son-in-law whose family line would produce generations of great Nittany Lions, stood up after the discussion and declared that the team would never have a vote of this sort again. It would never be spoken of; they already knew the answer. It was decided forever.

“We Are Penn State,” Suhey said. “We play all or we play none. There will be no meetings.”

Kevin relates Triplett’s story through Lincoln Hall in State College and a host of familiar, tangible landmarks that bind and unite Penn Staters:

Penn State student government leaders voted in 2016 to use the student facilities fee to erect a monument to Triplett near the location of Old Beaver Field, and though the project went in another direction once it reached the administrative level, it is a testament to the enduring appeal of his inspirational story that today’s students were willing to honor him in that way—nearly 70 years after Triplett and “The Men of ‘47” stood in their place.

But what compels such devotion? What is the Spirit of Penn State? Answers can be found through experiencing the ways in which the echoes of our shared past still reverberate through the places that we love. It is revering Mount Nittany. It is tipping your cap to Old Willow and admiring the remaining Elms on the Henderson Mall. It is celebrating the unique vision and singular determination of people like Evan Pugh, George Atherton, and Joe Paterno. And it is remembering places that never should have needed to exist at all, like Lincoln Hall, and the quiet dignity of the pioneers who lived there. It is learning and cherishing – and thereby keeping alive – the story of noble Lions like Wally Triplett, Steve Suhey, and a band of teammates who were ahead of their time.

The Spirit is still there if you want to experience it. Try it. Walk down North Barnard Street and stop in front of the second house on the right. Close your eyes. If you try hard enough, it’s not difficult to imagine Wally Triplett, the African-American son of a Pennsylvania postal worker, his smile reaching ear to ear, bounding down the wood-covered concrete steps of Lincoln Hall, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, on his way to catch the team bus to the Cotton Bowl, ready to change the course of history.

I hope Penn State administration comes to its senses and commissions a lasting stuatuary monument to Wally Triplett someplace near Beaver Stadium. Wally Triplett, rest in peace.

Electric bikes and landmarks

Earlier this month a friend from Philadelphia visited town. Late one night he had the idea to hop on JUMP bikes and take in the National Mall and surrounding landmarks. He had seen the monuments before, but he hadn’t experienced an electric bike—so combining the two experiences seemed as good a way as any to make his first electric bike experience a particularly memorable one. It was a cold ride, but a beautiful one. We had almost every scene to ourselves:

A few European visitors were leaving the Jefferson Memorial as we arrived and set our bikes down for a bit.

First snow in Georgetown

It snowed in Washington on Thursday, unusually early for mid-November when we’re still hypothetically enjoying autumn. I worked from my apartment that morning, as the roads had something like a quarter inch of accumulation and slush on them. It was good to look out my window and see snow on the pavement. Here’s a scene from N and Wisconsin I shot as I waited for an Uber:

And scenes from along Wisconsin from around noon that day, along with a night scene as I made my way home after attending Leah Libresco’s Catholic Information Center talk.

On national feeling

I spent time at the National Gallery of Art this afternoon, where I took this photo of Augustus Saint-Gaudens‘s Amor Caritas:

“Amor Caritas” represents the perfection of Saint-Gaudens’s vision of the ethereal female, a subject that he modeled repeatedly, beginning in 1880. The elegant figure in a frontal pose with free-flowing draperies and downcast eyes also appears in the caryatids for the Vanderbilt mantelpiece (25.234) and in several funerary works. Here, Saint-Gaudens made subtle changes in the drapery and added upward-curving wings, a tablet, and a belt and crown of passionflowers. He considered several titles with universal themes, including To Know Is to Forgive, Peace on Earth, God Is Love, and Good Will towards Men, before settling on Amor Caritas [Love (and) Charity].

I read about Saint Gaudens last autumn in David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, and thought this went well with something I read this week.

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes on nationalism and the notion that filial piety—respect and love for one’s forebears—that lends nationalism its potency are simply myths to be discarded, or that national spirit and interest are purely arbitrary and consequently disposable:

‘National identity is made up.” Thus saith the explainer journalist. But what exactly is explained by this gnomic pronouncement? The New York Times says that its new column “The Interpreter,” whose authors recently produced a four-minute video defending this thesis, “explores the ideas behind major world events. They use political and social science to explain topics from authoritarianism to arms control.”

“Use” is an apt verb. From the evidence at hand, I can see that political and social science were deployed for a purpose. A thief uses tools for his purposes too. And it could be said that a propagandist also explores ideas. …

Nationalism as a political movement was also what made democracy possible; it helped to overthrow ancient monarchies that routinely bequeathed nations with foreign rulers who just happened to inherit the chair. Further, national identity helped to create the social trust necessary to institute massive social-welfare systems. We might also note that while the Nazis made use of national loyalty, so too did the Poles, the French, the British, and the Americans who resisted and defeated the Nazi regime. And they could not have defeated the Nazis without that loyalty. …

Because national identity assumes into itself facts that derive from social interaction and history, the explainer concludes that it is a myth. It isn’t real. It’s just made up. Of course, lots of things that you can study have these properties: languages are “made up” in this way. They change over time. Their uses vary in history and social context. English shows evidence of assimilating Latin, French, and Greek vocabulary over its life. It is conditioned by history. But it would be stupid to say that English is somehow unreal. N’est-ce pas?

It indeed would be dumb to base your identity “just based on borders,” but in fact the relationship is the other way around. The identity is based on a shared homeland, or territory, along with shared law. National loyalty makes possible the kind of self-sacrifice that is necessary for living in peace with strangers. And in fact, the notable thing about national loyalty isn’t the times when, aggravated, it motivates us in war. War was very common before modern nationalism. Much more notable is the everyday peace and neighborliness that national loyalty fosters between people who may not share a tribe or a religious creed. Without nationality, we may still be trying to settle the wars of religion. With it, we were able to contribute to common treasuries whereby we provide for one other regardless of our ethnic background and religion. The border is just what you draw around this home. …

The anti-nationalist says that he wants fellow-feeling with all men, but … [t]he posited freedom to serve any man comes by dissolving his duty to his neighbors. His tragedy is that once he succeeds in deconstructing national loyalties, he will find that loyalties based on blood or creed come roaring back.

When you stop saying “nationalism”, which frightens some, and start saying something like “national feeling”, you start to get close to the heart of the thing that some claim to want to reject. Are we forgetting that national feeling does not mean either reactive jingoism or lack of charity and graciousness abroad? Are we really, broadly speaking, interested in disposing of a distinctly American national feeling? I doubt it.

Near BWI Amtrak Station

I flew into BWI airport recently, and found myself early in the morning waiting at the nearby BWI Amtrak Station to catch a train back into Washington. On the southbound side of the tracks there is this beautiful patch of forest:

I can’t tell whether “Stony Run” on the map refers to this patch of forest, or specifically to the little creek flowing through it. It was a gift to be able to do a work call, review emails, etc. in this place.

‘What do I do privately that I could do publicly?’

As I was leaving Arlington this evening I decided, despite the wet and slushy weather, to Uber to K Street for Leah Libresco’s talk on her book, “Building the Benedict Option,” at the Catholic Information Center.

I remember when she shared that she was writing this as a sort of practical manual for implementing Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option”, and so it was great to see the book in print last night.

Libresco lives with her husband in New York, and spoke about that experience as an entree to her book. How does a Christian cultivate and be a part of good community in a place like that? How do we do it anywhere? In a time when our devices only sometimes genuinely connect us, how do we really connect? Working together, eating together, praying together, in the simple presence of others—that’s a way to start living a better way. Asking “What do I do alone that I could do with other people?” is a way to start that Libresco spoke about. Another is, “What do I do privately that I could do publicly?”

Here’s the CIC’s background on the book:

Building the Benedict Option is a combination spiritual memoir and practical handbook for Christians who want to build communities of prayer, socialization, and evangelization in the places where they live and work.

Beginning when the author was a new convert, she desired more communal prayer and fellowship than weekly Mass could provide. She surveyed her friends–busy, young, urban professionals like herself–and created enriching or supportive experiences that matched their desires and schedules. The result was a less lonely and more boisterous spiritual and social life.

No Catholic Martha Stewart, Libresco is frank about how she plans events that allow her to feed thirty people on a Friday night without feeling exhausted. She is honest about the obstacles to prayer and the challenge to make it inviting and unobtrusive. Above all, she communicates the joy she has experienced since discovering ways to open her home (even when it was only a small studio apartment).

The reader will close this book with four or five ideas for events to try over the next few weeks, along with the tools to make them fruitful. From film nights to picnics in the park to resume-writing evenings, there are plenty of ideas to choose from and loads of encouragement to make more room in one’s life for others.

“There are so many more people in the world,” Libresco said at one point, “that we’re called to love that we could be encountering.”

Amazon Go

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When I was in Chicago earlier this month I stayed at the Club Quarters hotel in the Loop at Adams and Clark Streets. After coming back from dinner in the Homewood, IL suburbs one night, I walked past my first Amazon Go store, which turned out to be right across the street from the hotel. I had read about these “cashless” Amazon stores:

Amazon Go is a chain of grocery stores operated by the online retailer Amazon, currently with three locations in Seattle, Washington, two in Chicago, Illinois, and one in San Francisco, California. The stores are partially-automated, with customers able to purchase products without being checked out by a cashier or using a self-checkout station.

Apparently this Amazon Go store opened only a few weeks ago. There are just six of these stores so far; three in Seattle, two in Chicago, and one in San Francisco.

On entering, you use your iPhone and the Amazon Go app to scan a QR code and the turnstile swings open. An Amazon Go person greets you and you browse, pick what you want off the well-ordered shelves, and leave. No phone/scanning required at exit; the turnstile swings open for you, and you can grab napkins, utensils, etc. on your way out. Your Amazon account is billed automatically for whatever you picked up.

I don’t know if the plan is the same for all of these, but this Amazon Go location was more of a deli/bodega than a full fledged grocery store. Lots of prepared Whole Foods sandwiches and meals, with drinks, chips, ice cream, etc.

Chicago and Homewood scenes

A few scenes from earlier this month in Chicago, walking downtown into the Loop from River North, later walking to the Van Buren Street Metra station, and scenes from my visit to the Chicago suburb of Homewood, Illinois.

I liked Homewood a lot from the brief time I spent there. Its character reminds me of the Philadelphia suburbs, particularly Main Line towns like Narberth. Though you do not see freight trains and commuter trains coexisting like Metra and freight do in Chicago. Seeing double decker Amtrak trains, Metra trains, and freight on that trip brought me back to my 2011 Amtrak cross-country trips which were a very slow but richer way to travel and really encounter the people and places of the land you’re traversing.

On the ~45 minutes or so on the way out from the Loop to Homewood, I sat on the upper level of the Metra car. A stop or two after Van Buren, a whole crew of construction guys got on and sat around me. I had my laptop and was working, but enjoyed being around them mainly because there was no pretension. They talked openly about their family life, plans for the weekend, retirement schemes, etc. as a few of them nursed beers from their Busch Light six pack. They probably have something like the same conversation every day; at least I took some kind of comfort in being around them for it and thinking so.

Trees do not wait

I took the photo here on Dumbarton Street on the walk home recently, and it ties in with John Cuddeback’s reflection on autumn and the falling of leaves:

That the trees do not wait is perhaps a gentle reminder of many other things that will not wait, that call for our attending to each day.

The natural world speaks to us in so many voices. It speaks most powerfully, perhaps, when we recognize something of ourselves in it. Belloc writes of autumn as tending to unsettle us. The falling of leaves can cut a little close to the bone.

“Whatever permanent, uneasy question is native to men, comes forward most insistent and most loud at such times.”

It’s not that we have to go out in the woods and explicitly answer that permanent, uneasy question. It might be enough for us just to look up, and to listen. And to feel a little more our place in reality.

For every tree there will come a year in which its leaves will fall, never to be replaced. If the falling of leaves is poignant it is at root because human life is poignant; and a gift; something to be treasured and savored each day.

Whether we go for a walk alone, or alone with someone we love, something of who we are is waiting for us under the trees. Today.

Marquette Building and good public art

I’ve written before about what bad public art is for. When I was in Chicago earlier this past week I walked by the Marquette Building at night, and noticed an example of what I believe to be good public art:

I think two characteristics of good public art are, first, that it tells a story worth hearing, and second, that it is particular to its place in some sense. The engravings/reliefs above the entrance to the Marquette Building have these characteristics. They convey something of the rootedness of that particular place, and they convey some of the stories of the people who came before us in that place—in this case, apparently some of the story of “Father Jacques Marquette, the first European settler in Chicago, who explored the Chicago region in 1674 and wintered in the area for the 1674-5 winter season…”

In an arresting way, the Marquette Building does far more to connect the man or woman of the present with the distant past of this particular part of Chicago and this particular part of America than the beautiful but anodyne glass and wood foyer across the street will ever offer passersby of the future.

What I mean is that the Marquette Building offers people like me who walk by with the chance (even if only in the thinnest way) to connect with a bit of America’s far distant past and to encounter, in some sense, the realities of a far different generation of explorers and indigenous peoples. It knits together disparate generations and offers the chance of a sort of spiritual, or at least civic, wholeness.