With a quick glance, many Lehigh community members can spot athletes across campus — it’s not necessarily their physiques or post-lift limp that catches the eye, but something simpler: their white Under Armour backpacks.
These white backpacks, often boasting brown-thread embroidery of a team name and number, is a commonly-known identifier of student-athletes.
Erika Wagner, Lehigh’s manager of equipment services, said Lehigh Athletics entered a contract with Under Armour for athletic apparel and equipment during the 2018-2019 school year. With the contract came the infamous backpacks, a new career-issued item all Lehigh athletes receive during their time at the university.
“It’s unity,” Wagner said. “It recognizes all the student-athletes here. Hopefully, there’s also just some additional camaraderie amongst athletes regardless of what team they are on.”
When the Athletic Administration Committee was deciding on apparel under the Under Armour contract, Wagner said with Lehigh being an academic institution, they figured backpacks would be an important addition.
Lehigh’s club sports differ from varsity sports in that they are student-run organizations not affiliated with the NCAA. While club sports teams receive a yearly allocation of funds from the school, participants must pay dues for personal items like backpacks.
Matt Kutz, assistant director of club sports, said the ice hockey team requested white backpacks, which are now in the process of being made.
“Any of our clubs can actually purchase them if they would like,” Kutz said. “No one else has asked about it, but we don’t have any sort of policy saying they can’t purchase them.”
For some athletes, receiving a white backpack serves as a rite of passage.
First-year Sophia Renaud, a long-distance runner, walked onto the cross country and track and field teams. She said receiving the backpack made it official.
“For me, it kind of symbolizes that I’m part of the team,” Renaud said.
While many athletes opt to use the backpack, some do not use it for class in order to separate their sports from their academics.
Renaud said she has teammates who use a different bag when attending class so they can focus on being a student during the day. She said when they put on the white backpack to attend games or practices, “it’s like a change of mindset.”
First-year Johnny Kidd is on the men’s lacrosse team. He said he started the year using the white backpack but quickly gave it up for a regular school bag.
Kidd said while he was excited to receive the backpack, he stopped wearing it because he felt it made him stick out.
He doesn’t think there is a bad stigma surrounding athletes, but he said he didn’t want to be easily identified in classes as an athlete.
“I feel like it’s important to kind of have a separation of your life right over here (Asa Packer campus),” Kidd said. “When I’m an athlete, that’s when I’m over the mountain. I feel like separation is important, and I feel like that was the first step — just taking off that backpack.”