Penn State Reminds Us That 'Sweet Caroline' Is Kind of Creepy

Photo by TheRichBrooks via Flickr

Among tweaks to the game-day traditions at Penn State in the wake of last year’s scandal is one that will interest frequenters of Fenway Park: Nittany Lions fans will no longer belt out the lyrics to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a staple both there and at Red Sox games, because university officials decided the lyrics are a bit, well, awkward under the circumstances, according to the Pennsylvania-based Altoona Mirror. The particular issue, we imagine, is that pre-chorus build-up featuring the lyrics, “Touching me, touching you …” It’s a small tweak alongside more massive, crippling changes to the football program after former Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky’s persistent sexual abuse of young boys came to light last year, but, yeah, this is probably a smart, prescient dodge on the university’s part. And it’s a reminder, for us Sox fans anyway, that while Diamond’s song makes for a fun 8th inning sing-a-long, it’s also a pretty creepy tune, and a Fenway tradition whose origins most fans probably can’t name.

It’s not just those “touching” lyrics that might offend at a Penn State event—it’s the song’s concept. Diamond wrote it about Caroline Kennedy in 1969 after spotting a photograph of her in a magazine— taken when she was just nine years old. (Yikes.) Also, there’s nothing in the lyrics that immediately evokes Boston or the Sox—it’s popular at Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and other sporting events, too. And in a baseball program like Boston’s with a longer and more entrenched history than most, the “Sweet Caroline” 8th inning habit is a relative baby. It dates to the late 1990s. When reporters inquire, Sox fans usually can’t say why the song plays at every game. The answer itself is fairly unromantic. As the Globe‘s Stephanie Vosk reported in 2005, a woman named Amy Tobey, then in charge of selecting music to play at Fenway, was primarily responsible. She liked the song and noticed that fans responded well to it. Hence, a “tradition”—a word that any longtime fan might point out is up for debate—is born.

Still, old or new, after more than a decade, it does start to feel like a permanent part of the Fenway fabric, so absent any reason as compelling as Penn State’s for doing away with it, we imagine it’s here to stay. Still, after this little reminder about the song’s roots, we probably won’t be able to help yelling “So good,” a less loudly next time we visit the park.