Days after Saturday’s football game between Penn State University and the University of Minnesota, a video of Goldy Gopher seemingly mimicking a Penn State player praying before the game is making headlines in national news.
The video, which first appeared on YouTube on Sunday, Oct. 18, and has since collected 36,000 hits, shows Penn State defensive end Jerome Hayes kneeling in the end zone to pray before the game. Goldy appears to mimic Hayes by kneeling in front of him while he prays. Goldy then stands up when Hayes finishes and tries to give him a handshake, which Hayes refuses.
Toward the end of the video, someone near to or holding the camera can be heard saying, “He clearly mocked his prayer. That’s not cool.”
The story took a few days to pick up steam, but it was published in USA Today on Tuesday and was picked up on many sports blogs and local news outlets, including the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and Fox News.
University officials issued a statement Tuesday night apologizing to Hayes and “anyone else who might have taken offense from this incident,” on behalf of Goldy and the University, adding that Goldy’s actions were “plainly a mistake.”
The statement also said it wasn’t Goldy’s intent to offend anyone or to “trivialize their religion,” and that Goldy has been advised to exercise “appropriate religious sensitivity” in the future.
The stories have garnered many comments, ranging from labeling the incident offensive to praising Goldy for entertaining the crowd.
Nora Paul, director for the Institute for New Media Studies at the University’s School of Journalism , said there are a lot of factors that contribute to a video like this “going viral.”
“Of course, religion is always a hot-button issue,” Paul said, “I’m sure the video pushed some buttons.”
Paul pointed out that although two days seems like a long time in today’s media-driven society, it is a pretty quick turnaround on a topic like this. She added that sometimes issues become news only as a reaction to public discussion, so it takes some time for people to talk about the issue before it hits the mainstream media.
Jeff Nelson, assistant athletic director for communications at Penn State, said the incident is a “non-story” as far as the university community is concerned.
He said he suspected the issue was gaining momentum because Hayes was asked about the incident at a press conference held Tuesday, increasing awareness of the issue nationally.
University spokesman Dan Wolter said the University’s apology was simply a response to reporter inquiries, though he added the University has received complaints about Goldy’s behavior.
The Gophers lost the game, which was also Penn State’s homecoming game, 20-0.