I love Pennsylvania State University. I was there when Jerry Sandusky’s true, disgusting nature was revealed to the world, and the school’s nationally-recognized football program was left for dead. In those moments, thanks to strong-willed young men like Matt McGloin and Michael Mauti, who stayed amidst crippling sanctions, Penn State’s colors shined. It’s a university that raises tens-of-millions of dollars to fight pediatric cancer. It’s a place where tolerance and charity are cornerstone values, and everyone is welcomed.
Sadly, even “Happy Valley” isn’t immune to heartless, short-sighted people who only see color, not character.
Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland isn’t a household name, but he’s slowly becoming one around Beaver Stadium. He was voted a team captain as a redshirt sophomore in 2019, and his biggest moment to date came when he blocked two punts against Idaho, becoming only one of two FBS players to do that this year.
Sutherland’s trademark, aside from being one of PSU’s most well-respected players, are his dreadlocks. The Ontario, Canada native said in September, “When I was a kid my mom just braided my hair one day and I just went with it.”
Apparently, his hairstyle — and probably skin color — doesn’t sit well with an “older” generation. At least that’s what a PSU alumni named Dave Petersen said in a scathing letter addressed directly to Sutherland.
Fellow Nittany Lion defensive tackle Antonio Shelton and running back C.J. Holmes posted a picture of the letter on social media Monday night.
Dave Petersen’s Penn State Letter
My wife and I are proud ‘older’ graduates of Penn State. We follow all Penn State sports; football, wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, basketball. We love it all. I played all the sports in my younger days; still played full-court basketball into my 50’s. Loved the competition but never had the size or talent to reach your level; though the desire was there!Advertisement
Though the athletes of today are certainly superior to those in my days, we miss the clean-cut young men and women from those days. Watching the Idaho game 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 a girlfriend who have told you those shoulder-length dreadlocks disgusting and are certainly not attractive?
We congratulate you on your game against Pitt, but you need to remember you represent all Penn Staters both current and alumni from years past. We would welcome the reappearance of dress code for athletes.
You will certainly 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.’
For the Glory,
There’s no other argument you can make. At the end of the day, this was a racist letter.
The man was identified by The Tribune-Democrat as Johnstown, Pennsylvania native David Petersen, a 1966 Penn State graduate. When reached by phone, Petersen said he didn’t realize the backlash his letter was receiving online. Then, he said something that only furthers this guy’s blind, mindless understanding of black culture.
Petersen told The Tribune-Democrat his goal was for coaches to “get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State and Miami guys.”
In a truly awesome response, Sutherland tweeted on Tuesday that he “took no personal offense” to the letter while citing Colossians 3:13 from the Bible.
Jonathan Sutherland Statement
“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.”
“Let this be one of the many examples to us that in the year 2019, people of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities are still being discriminated against and it needs to stop.”
Penn State football’s head coach James Franklin also responded with a strong statement of unity and tolerance, as well as praising Sutherland as “the ultimate examples of what our program is all about.”
“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,” Franklin said. “Teams all over this country 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.Advertisement
“Jonathan Sutherland is one of the most respected players in our program. He’s the ultimate example of what our program is all about. He’s a captain, he’s a Dean List honor student. He’s articulate. He’s confident. 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 like him with his character and integrity one day.”Advertisement
— Penn State Coach James Franklin, via statement
Things like this aren’t what sports are all about. The days of — dare I say — “white” rules are finished. Football players, basketball players, softball players, you name it, are helping shine lights on different cultures, styles, voices and people that all live on this planet.
Believe in whatever the hell you want, honestly. But when this kind of rhetoric is blindly blurted out without any clue of the impact is, that’s when it becomes a much bigger problem.
I stand with Jonathan Sutherland. Hopefully after seeing this, you do, too.