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OP-ED: It’s Time To Bring Back Rowbottoms


Photo courtesy of Penn Archives

Many people complain about a lack of enthusiasm around Penn sports or a lack of excitement when one of Penn’s teams wins something. There is one clear and easy way to solve this: Bring back rowbottoms.

For those that don’t know, rowbottoms are a Penn tradition dating back to 1910 until the late 1970s. When a rowbottom happened, students would riot, break things, and cause general chaos in and around the Philadelphia area. They typically occurred around sporting events, which is why it would be the perfect tradition to bring back now.

Most Penn sporting events are greeted by crowds of three to five fans, and that was before COVID-19. The enthusiasm around Penn’s sports teams just isn’t there. Penn students would rather be doing work, or going to a party, or literally doing anything else than watching one of Penn’s teams compete.

People look all over for different avenues to blame this steady trend on, but the fact of the matter is that Penn students don’t have any reason to rally around their teams. What is a student supposed to do after Penn cross country does well at a meet? How is one supposed to celebrate that? The current answer is that there is nothing to do. Some students will acknowledge it for a second and then move on. The only way to curb this is to let the celebration become violent.

Just imagine — you learn that Penn did really well at a track meet. You want to have an outlet to celebrate, so you go out onto the street and you find a bunch of other people looking for the same thing. Then, in your shared excitement, you go to the Wawa on Spruce Street. You and the others go inside, thinking you’ll just grab some food, but then you realize that it would be way cooler if you just started knocking over all the aisles in the store. Now, you and the others are doing just that. The people working there are confused, but they can tell just by the expressions on your faces: Penn track and field just dominated in the 200-meter race. 

This is the way we should celebrate Penn sports. What’s better? Liking a post on Instagram about how great the Penn swim team did in their relays, or assaulting the Ben Franklin statue to show your excitement about it? Sure, the former would probably not result in any jail time and probably wouldn’t get you kicked out of Penn, but it doesn’t have the same thrill as the latter.

On top of exciting students, bringing back rowbottoms would single-handedly lift up athletics. The anticipation of a rowbottom breaking out would get people in the stands at games, and the lingering hype around it would make Penn sports a staple of the Penn experience. You’d be able to go around talking about who got arrested at which rowbottom, and a shared sense of community around destructive violence would form.

After Penn gymnastics gets second in a meet, we should be able to go throw bricks at the windows in McClelland. When Penn squash gets a big win, we should be allowed to turn over cars outside of CVS. This is the kind of thing that would invigorate Penn sports and the culture around them. Our school could be united in a sense of shared pride over vandalism, and yet “property damage” and “jail time” stand in our way. Well, I say no more. It’s time we bring back excitement around Penn sports, and it’s time we bring back rowbottoms.