This past weekend for the Ohio State vs. Penn State white-out game, many seniors woke up bright and early to get ready for the biggest and best senior tailgate and football game of the year.
The senior tailgate is a popular event that has taken place before almost every home game football weekend for years now without any problems — up until last Saturday.
The process of entering the senior tailgate is strictly regulated; about a week before any Penn State Football home game, sign-up sheets for senior tailgate wristbands go out for $10 per wristband. When students sign up, they must provide their name and birthdate for age verification purposes. Come game day, the tailgate located near Mount Nittany Hospital is surrounded by two to five licensed bouncers who are trained and required to check students/visitors ID’s and wristbands before allowing them to enter the tailgate.
The tailgate itself is a typical college student atmosphere; attended by mainly students who are in Greek life, there is a DJ who is hired to play for the duration of the tailgate and trucks lining the area with tents, tables, food and drinks. Students socialize, dance and spend time together, showing their Penn State spirit before collectively heading over to Beaver Stadium for the game.
The scene at this past weekend’s senior tailgate, however, was something out of a movie. Having started at 2:30 p.m., it was not even an hour underway when police cracked down and surrounded the area, most on horseback and others on foot. The cops combed through the crowd, one reaching down to grab a student by the throat.
The tailgate, though larger than normal given all of the visitors for the white-out weekend, was nothing unlike any of the senior tailgates in the past.
“The cops were observing and hunting down people,” says Andrew Hufnagle, senior at Penn State. “They were so aggressive. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen. I’m conservative and support the police, but this was over the top.”
“It was the most outrageous, ridiculous, unnecessary use of force I have witnessed,” comments student Stephen Hladik on a viral Instagram post of the scene.
Minutes later, a helicopter was flown 25-30 feet above students, some ducking in cover and others recording the scene on their phones in disbelief. Tables, tents, garbage and other debris were sent flying through the air, some hitting and injuring students and some damaging surrounding vehicles. According to an NBC news report, the helicopter was after a student who reportedly punched a horse.
In their “FAA Guide To Low-Flying Aircrafts,” the Federal Aviation Administration states that “pilots should remain at least 1,000 feet above congested areas or above open-air assemblies.” The State College University Police broke this law by over 900 feet.
Scott Olson, a parent tailgating near the scene of the event, voiced his opinion to Geoff Rushton, reporter from statecollege.com. “If that helicopter had any type of accident, you would’ve had people shredded everywhere and cars on fire,” Olson said. “It’s so fortunate that there wasn’t a major tragedy yesterday.”
Chris Buchignani, host of TV show and podcast “Obligatory PSU Pre-Game Show” tweeted referring to Saturday’s events as a “disproportionate, unacceptable use of force,” adding that it was “unnecessarily dangerous.”
To that end, I hope President Barron & @penn_state will show leadership & not let today’s police statement be the last word on Saturday’s weaponization of a helicopter to disperse allegedly unruly tailgaters. Disproportionate, unacceptable use of force. Unnecessarily dangerous.
— Chris Buchignani (@buchignani) October 1, 2018
As for the University, they have confirmed that they will temporarily stop using helicopters to make announcements outside the football stadium, and they are currently under investigation by The Federal Aviation Administration.