Buckeyes' Penn-inspired shirts honor black inventors

Adam Jardy
Ohio State players wore shirts recognizing Black History Month before their game against Northwestern on Wednesday. The shirts featured the name of a black inventor on the front and his or her invention on the back. [Brooke LaValley/Dispatch]

Ohio State took to the court Wednesday night against Northwestern with more than just winning a men's basketball game on its mind.

For a second straight year, the Buckeyes wore special shirts to recognize Black History Month. But unlike last year’s Nike-issued shirts that read “EQUALITY.” in white letters against a black backdrop, these were custom-made and unique.

The brainchild of director of player development Scoonie Penn, the players wore shirts with the name of a black inventor on the front and the invention he or she is best known for on the back.

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“Being able to wear those T-shirts, maybe another generation of people got to see that and think, ‘Wow, I did not know that African-Americans invented some of these things,’ ” Penn said before the game. “A lot of people don’t think African-Americans did anything except sports and entertainment, and that’s so false. There’s so much we’ve brought to this country, to society, and we don’t get recognition for it.

“The guys really wanted to represent and do it. The blacks and all the whites on our team, everybody was all-in on it, 100 percent, and it was cool.”

Penn ran the idea by coach Chris Holtmann and athletic director Gene Smith. The women’s basketball team followed suit for its home game Sunday against Wisconsin.

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Each player wore a shirt for final pregame warm-ups and then for the entirety of the game, and they had been assigned to research their inventor. Freshman guard Duane Washington Jr. had Garrett Morgan and his invention, the gas mask. Sophomore center Kaleb Wesson had Joseph Winters, who invented the fire escape ladder.

“Black History Month, that’s something that’s big,” Wesson said. “We’ve got a lot of injustice in the country and having a big media spread like this helps a lot.”

Holtmann said the plan is to celebrate Black History Month every year and increase dialogue among the players about race.

“As I told our team, two of the people my dad admires the most were Oscar Robertson — he grew up in Cincinnati — and Martin Luther King Jr.,” Holtmann said. “That was passed onto me. All that is to say this is an important conversation that I want to have with our team. What a great opportunity to learn and honor those who came before.”


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