Trailblazing African-American athelete speaks at All-Sports Museum
By Travis Johnson and Margaret McAvoy, The Collegian
Wally Triplett got his start as a football player at Penn State in the forties, when times were different, as Triplett describes:
“When discrimination was the talk of the table.”
Triplett returned to State College Thursday evening and spoke at the All-Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium to a small audience. Triplett’s appearance was a part the Breaking Barriers: The Story and Legacy of African-American Athletes at Penn State series to honor black history month.
Recognized as the first black player to be drafted into and play in the NFL, Triplett described his experiences in college as a black football player during a time when segregation was the norm.
Triplett was a member of the 1946 Penn State team and was told to stay home for an away game at Miami. The game was cancelled when Nittany Lions voted unanimously as a team that they wouldn’t travel without their black teammates.
Triplett praised his alma mater for the advancement of black athletes during his time at Penn State, but said he believes the school hasn’t received the credit it deserves as a university committed to equal rights throughout the forties.
“What happened to me was in 1945, Penn State was not the diversity that you have now,” Triplett said. “It was just a different world. The whole of America was that way.”
Triplett narrated his experiences to an audience of 43. Often stopping to gather his thoughts and between pauses, Triplett told the story of the 1948 Cotton Bowl, when he became the first black player to play in that game, but only after the intervention of, as Triplett remembered, “three different governments.”
He also described living in Lincoln Hall, a dormitory named after Abraham Lincoln and reserved for black students.
While he played halfback for the Nittany Lions until he was selected in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL Draft, Triplett attributed much of his success on the field to luck.
“There are accidents and incidents that happen in one’s life and that’s what life’s all about,” Triplett said. “You’re just lucky enough to live it. And that’s what I’ve done.”
Triplett furthered his definition of luck, telling the audience that you can spell the word luck with two letters — ‘P’ and ‘O’.
“One you can do something about. It’s called preparation,” Triplett said. “The other, you have nothing to do with. The other is opportunity, you never know when it’ll tap you on the shoulder.”
Penn State historian Lou Prato was in attendance and said Penn Staters who weren’t on hand for Triplett’s talk missed out on “a glorious piece of Penn State and national history.”
Prato, who met Triplett in the late 90s and has become close with the former Lion, agreed with Triplett’s lecture.
“Wally’s right,” Prato said. “Penn State’s never been given the credit for what it’s done over the years for civil rights.”