After a Penn State player received a letter from a fan criticizing his “awful” dreadlocks, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin opened his weekly news conference by talking about how football teams bring people together.
The letter was sent to Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland and it gained attention after his teammates posted it on social media Monday night. The person, a Penn State graduate, acknowledged writing the letter in an interview with The Tribune-Democrat on Tuesday. The letter said Sutherland’s shoulder-length dreadlocks looked “disgusting.”
Franklin addressed the letter indirectly. He said, “The football that I know and love brings people together and embraces differences.” The coach complimented Sutherland for being “the ultimate example of what our program’s about.”
Sutherland posted on Twitter that the message was “ignorant,” but said he forgave the sender without an apology necessary.
David Petersen, a 1966 Penn State graduate in speech pathology, said in the published report that he did send a letter to player Jonathan Sutherland in which Petersen communicated that he thought the player’s “shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting.”
Petersen wrote to Sutherland: “You need to remember you represent all Penn Staters both current and those alumni from years past. We would welcome the reappearance of dress codes for athletes.”
The letter also said Petersen expected Sutherland to “be playing ‘on Sunday’ in the future but we have stopped watching the NFL due to the disgusting, tattoos, awful hair and immature antics in the end zone. Players should act as though they’ve ‘been there before.’”
Penn State player Antonio Shelton tweeted an image of the letter with this message: “One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist.”
Petersen said making a racial or cultural statement “was not the intent at all. I would just like to see the coaches get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State and Miami guys.”
Penn State issued a statement on Twitter: “While we don’t know the source of this letter or the authenticity, obviously its content does not align with our values. We strongly condemn this message or any message of intolerance.”
Sandy Barbour, Penn State’s vice president for intercollegiate athletics, added her own tweeted statement: “I stand with our Penn State student athletes and appreciate how they represent PSU in competition, in the classroom and in the community. Their dress, tattoos, or hairstyle has no impact on my support, nor does their gender, skin color, sexuality or religion!”