As the living symbol of Penn State University’s athletic program, Norm Constantine was a heroic but tragic figure in the world of collegiate sports. During his spirited reign as the Nittany Lion mascot, he became known as “Mr. Penn State” because of the status he brought to the role and his unselfish, unrelenting service to those with physical challenges.
Constantine, who often said he had “the best seat in the house”, gave the Nittany Lion a unique personality and created many of the traditions that survive today.
He attended Penn State majoring in Parks and Recreation with an emphasis on those with intellectual disabilities and/or physical challenges and became fascinated with the school’s chief promotional symbol. In his sophomore year, Constantine, a fitness buff, auditioned and won the coveted role of mascot for his junior year and again for his senior year. As the Lion, he was required to attend many sporting and various other events, but Constantine took it even further by visiting hospitals, homes and schools. He became a champion for sports for people facing physical and intellectual challenges and once spent several hours in a wheelchair to get some idea of what life is like for those unable to walk. Before games in Beaver Stadium, he made it a point to greet fans who arrived in wheelchairs. He was directly responsible for the addition of wheelchair accessible sidewalk ramps throughout the campus.
Constantine won accolades in karate, including a black belt, honorary fifth degree black belt and was one of five in the country certified to teach martial arts to people with disabilities.
After graduation, Constantine chose a career as a recreational therapist to individuals with long-term disabilities, never dreaming he would end up among them. In October, 1981 in the Roxborough section of the city, a hit and run accident left him in a coma for seven months. The man who wore a fuzzy lion suit and energized crowds with his handsprings and one-armed pushups could neither walk nor talk. Eight years after the accident, he died of a pulmonary embolism and was buried with a Penn State blanket draped over his coffin. “He did the kind of deeds idealists think of but seldom do” said Ray Constantine, his brother.
Norm Constantine embodied the characteristics of the lion – courage, strength and loyalty.