By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
Penn State sports fans may recognize the name Wallace "Wally" Triplett. A tailback and linebacker for the Nittany Lions, Triplett became the first Black player to start for Penn State on Nov. 17, 1945.
According to a recent Penn State press release, Triplett became the first Black player to be drafted by and to play in the NFL when he was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL Draft. Triplett then played four seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions and Chicago Cardinals, interrupted by a two-year stint in the Korean War. As a professional player, Triplett set the league’s single-game record with 294 yards on four kickoff returns, including a 97-yard touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams in 1950, a record that stood for 44 seasons. Triplett’s 73.5-yard kickoff return average stands as the NFL single-game record.
With the NCAA allowing student athletes to earn proceeds from Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals, it’s imperative that colleges help their student athletes to understand those new opportunities and support their entrepreneurial interests, no matter what type of business they want to start.
Penn State benefited from counting such a trailblazer among its talented line of exceptional athletes those many years ago and is benefiting yet again from the Triplett affiliation, so many years later. Thanks to an anonymous donor, who has pledged $2.5 million, the Wally Triplett Brand Academy Endowment will help current Penn State student-athlete entrepreneurs learn tips and tools to be successful. The donor’s generosity will be matched by the university through the Economic Development Incentive Matching Program.
According to Lee Erickson, associate director of economic development and student programs, “With the NCAA allowing student athletes to earn proceeds from Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals, it’s imperative that colleges help their student athletes to understand those new opportunities and support their entrepreneurial interests, no matter what type of business they want to start.”
The Brand Academy is a joint project of Intercollegiate Athletics and Invent Penn State and is currently in the process of hiring a director, who will later hire a coordinator, for the academy, which will help student athletes navigate the business space and make informed decisions about where they want to take their brands.
“The academy will help student athletes to understand the role their personal brand plays in their entrepreneurial endeavors, as well as the mechanics of starting, running and growing a business, building their negotiation skills and reducing their risk,” said Erickson.
Christina Diaz, assistant AD for Development and Enrichment, further noted that the goal is to support students’ needs to brand build, and, as always, continue to provide education.
We are confident that what the students will learn in the Brand Academy will help them with their career post Penn State.
“We foresee the Brand Academy being an immediate resource for our student athletes navigating the complexities of starting a business, or building and managing a brand. We want to help them in understanding some of the bigger meanings behind words like ‘in perpetuity,’ ‘exclusivity,’ etc.,” Diaz said, adding that educating the student athletes on legal terminology could prevent them from getting ensnared in licensing agreements that would limit their ability to use their name, image and likeness for years to come.
The Brand Academy will also leverage entrepreneurial resources available through the Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank and the Penn State Small Business Development Center.
Among the many ideas in the Brand Academy pipeline: developing digital content available on demand, one-on-one mentoring, bringing aboard guest speakers, aiding with networking and even tackling more esoteric topics like non-fungible tokens.
A fitting tribute
In a Penn State press release, Ayanna McConnell, Wally’s granddaughter, remarks upon the academy as being a fitting tribute to her grandfather, who died in 2018.
“Penn State meant a lot to my granddad because it opened up doors to his success in important ways,” said McConnell. “I think he would be proud to have his name connected with Penn State’s efforts to help student athletes to be successful in this way.”
Erickson explains, because of the donation, the program should last many years into the future and plans are to launch this summer.
“We are also confident that what the students will learn in the Brand Academy will help them with their career post Penn State, whether they launch a business, take a job in corporate America or work with a nonprofit. That’s what’s really exciting for us,” she said.