Penn State play­ers, uni­ver­sity con­demn dread­locks let­ter

Centre Daily Times - - Front Page - BY BRET PALLOTTO AND JOSH MOYER bpal­[email protected]­ [email protected]­

Nearly the en­tire Penn State com­mu­nity — coaches, fans, play­ers and the ath­letic di­rec­tor — have ral­lied be­hind foot­ball co-cap­tain Jon­athan Suther­land, who re­cently re­ceived a crit­i­cal let­ter from an alum that many have la­beled “racist.”

In the let­ter, posted on­line Mon­day by de­fen­sive tackle An­to­nio Shel­ton, a 78-year-old John­stown man crit­i­cized Suther­land for his dread­locks, writ­ing that they’re “dis­gust­ing,” “aw­ful” and “not at­trac­tive.”

The let­ter-writer, Dave Petersen, con­firmed Tues­day to the John­stown Tri­bune-Demo­crat that he sent the let­ter. He said it was “not the in­tent” to make any racial state­ments. But, Shel­ton wrote on Twit­ter, “Ex­plain to me how this isn’t racist.”

Penn State’s of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count strongly con­demned the let­ter Mon­day night, and Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Sandy Bar­bour tweeted her sup­port for Suther­land on Tues­day morn­ing. Head foot­ball coach James Franklin also chimed in Tues­day af­ter­noon on the let­ter, which has gone vi­ral and been talked about from coast to coast.

“The foot­ball that I know and love brings peo­ple to­gether,” Franklin said dur­ing his weekly press con­fer­ence. “It 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 coun­try are the purest form of hu­man­ity that we have. We don’t judge; we em­brace dif­fer­ences.”

The let­ter set off a firestorm of crit­i­cism, mostly di­rected at Petersen. Suther­land, a red­shirt sopho­more, was framed by Petersen as a dis­re­spect­ful player who’s not among the “clean cut young men and women” from Petersen’s days. But, as Franklin noted, the safety is a Dean’s List stu­dent who wants to be a CEO one day.

Suther­land ex­plained his dread­locks in early Septem­ber, say­ing he’s had them for close to 10 years. “I feel like it’s be­come part of my iden­tity at this point,” Suther­land said at the time. “When I was a kid, my mom just braided my hair one day, and I just went with it.”

Suther­land’s team­mates unan­i­mously stood be­hind him.

“I’m pretty sure who­ever wrote that let­ter, if you met him, you’d want your kid to be like Jon­athan Suther­land,” de­fen­sive end Shaka Toney said. “So we’re go­ing to ig­nore that and block the hate out. You can’t put en­ergy into neg­a­tive things.”

Added de­fen­sive tackle Fred Hansard: “It’s re­ally dis­turb­ing for me to read but, at the end of the day, that’s his opin­ion. We don’t agree with it; a lot of peo­ple had a lot of things to say about it. At the end of the day, I’m be­hind Jon­athan Suther­land. I’m his brother.”

Alumni like for­mer quar­ter­back Trace McSor­ley of­fered their sup­port on Twit­ter. Web­sites such as The Root, a Black news blog and sis­ter site of sports blog Dead­spin, wrote a bit­ing open let­ter from Suther­land’s dread­locks to the Petersens. And Shel­ton’s orig­i­nal tweet has been fa­vor­ited more than 52,000 times as of press time — and has re­ceived sup­port from NFL alumni such as re­tired Indianapol­is Colts punter Pat McAfee, who’s from Pitts­burgh but played for West Vir­ginia.

For his part, Suther­land — a backup safety and spe­cial teams co-cap­tain — re­mained silent about the or­deal un­til the let­ter went vi­ral Tues­day af­ter­noon. He then re­leased a state­ment on Twit­ter, quot­ing the Bi­ble and thank­ing ev­ery­one for the sup­port.

“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,” Suther­land wrote.

Of­fen­sive line­man Will Fries told re­porters the in­ci­dent helped show “we al­ways have each other’s backs.” And line­backer Micah Parsons said Penn State will “come to­gether even more” as a re­sult of the in­tol­er­ant com­ments.

And Toney, who had three sacks Satur­day against Pur­due, might’ve of­fered the best ad­vice of all.

“Just make sure that you don’t stand for things like that,” Toney said. “You don’t have to pub­licly go out there and talk about it, but just don’t sup­port stuff like that — ha­tred and things like that.

“Peo­ple are go­ing to live dif­fer­ent, peo­ple are go­ing to sound dif­fer­ent — and it shouldn’t be a con­cern.”

Bret Pallotto: 814-231-4648, @BretPal­lot­toCDT


Penn State safety Jon­athan Suther­land said he has had his dread­locks for about 10 years.

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