University Park

Football team stood against racism, broke barriers in 1946-47

University Park, Pa. -- More than 60 years ago, Wallace Triplett and Dennie Hoggard set an important precedent by becoming the first African-Americans to take the field in a varsity football game for Penn State. But their race would take on an even greater role in 1946 when Penn State faced the issue of playing at a segregated school, and again in 1947 when segregation ordinances in the south posed a unique challenge in placing the Nittany Lions in a bowl game.

Triplett and Hoggard learned when they returned to school in the fall of 1946 that Penn State had scheduled a game at the University of Miami -- a segregated school which would not allow Penn State to bring black players.

As the season wore on, Triplett and Hoggard felt growing concern over the team playing in a segregated environment. In a surprise move, Penn State players held a team vote and unanimously decided to cancel the game, rather than compromising by not bringing black players.

"That was a big, big step in the civil rights movement, but hardly anyone knows that story," says Lou Prato, author of the Penn State Football Encyclopedia and recently retired director of the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

Penn State Live's In Motion explores the difficulties and historic decision of that 1946 season with archival footage, photos and a recent interview with Triplett. To view the streaming video broadcast, visit

The season that followed was a triumphant one for Penn State, as one of the greatest teams in Nittany Lion history compiled an undefeated record through the regular season. As fourth-ranked Penn State geared up for a bowl game, however, segregation once again became a major issue.

Penn State agreed to play Southern Methodist in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Despite segregation ordinances in Dallas, SMU officials agreed to allow Penn State to bring its black players. Still, segregation rules prohibited black and white players from rooming together.

SMU officials again worked to accommodate Penn State, making an arrangement with the federal government to house the Nittany Lions in a nearby air base. Penn State would play SMU to a 13-13 tie, but with an assist from SMU, the Nittany Lions picked up a greater victory by breaking the Cotton Bowl's color barrier.

In Motion details the process that led to Penn State's historic day at the Cotton Bowl, with more archival footage and comments from Triplett. For the streaming video broadcast, visit

Last Updated March 19, 2009