Penn State football player Jonathan Sutherland spoke out on Tuesday after receiving a letter from an alumnus of the school calling his dreadlocks “disgusting.”
Antonio Shelton, a defensive tackle on the school’s football team, tweeted the letter Monday with the caption “One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist," referring to Sutherland.
The letter to Sutherland is from a person named Dave Peterson who says he is a graduate of Penn State. He says he supports Penn State athletics, but when he and his wife were watching one of the school’s football games on TV, “we couldn’t help but notice your –well - awful hair. Surely there must be mirrors in the locker room! Don’t you have parents or girlfriend who’ve told you those shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive.”
The letter states that the player needs “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.”
One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist. pic.twitter.com/Qms1F6DEEP— Antonio Shelton (@_groovy55) October 7, 2019
Sutherland blasted the letter in a statement on Twitter, but he said he forgives Peterson.
“Yesterday I received a letter by an alumni from the Pennsylvania State University who felt the need to share his degrading opinions in regards to my hair and what it stands for. Although the message was indeed rude, ignorant, and judging, I’ve taken no personal offense to it because personally, I must respect you as a person before I respect your opinion," Sutherland said.
“At the end of the day, without an apology needed, I forgive this individual because I’m nowhere close to being perfect and I expect God to forgive me for all the wrong I’ve done in my life.”
Peterson spoke out about the letter in an interview with The Tribune-Democrat on Tuesday. Peterson, a 1966 graduate, confirmed he wrote the letter and said making a racist 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 condemned the letter in a tweet Monday, saying, “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.”
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.— Penn State (@penn_state) October 8, 2019
Penn State University Head Football Coach James Franklin also slammed the letter in a Tuesday press conference.
“The football that I know and love brings people together and embraces differences: black, white, brown, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. Rich or poor, rural or urban, Republican or Democrat. Long hair, short hair, no hair. They’re all in that locker room together. Teams all over this county are the purest form of humanity that we have. We don’t judge. We embrace differences. We live. We learn. We grow. We support, and we defend each other. We’re a family,” Franklin told reporters Tuesday.
“Jonathan Sutherland is one of the most respected players in our program. He is the ultimate example of what our program’s all about. He’s the captain. He’s a dean’s list honor student. He’ confident. He’s articulate. He’s intelligent. He’s thoughtful. He’s caring, and he’s committed. He’s got two of the most supportive parents, and I would be so blessed if my daughters would marry someone with his character and integrity one day,” he continued.
James Franklin with an important and emotional message regarding a fan’s racist letter sent to PSU safety Jonathan Sutherland. pic.twitter.com/z2TFlWKs3m— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) October 8, 2019
Another one of Sutherland’s teammates, Aeneas Hawkins, called Sutherland “THE blueprint” in a Tuesday tweet, tweeting that the letter was “intolerable” and “disgusting.”
Jonathan Sutherland is THE blueprint. The highest standard in the classroom, community, and with his teammates on the field or off. This letter is intolerable, your discomfort is disgusting, and you don’t deserve to be “represented” by a man with character as spectacular as #26. https://t.co/0ma7OAZzYe— Aeneas Hawkins (@AeneasHawkins) October 8, 2019