In another moment marking the intersection of traditionally black hairstyles and sports, Penn State football coach James Franklin denounced a letter that had been sent to one of his players by an alum who called his dreadlocks “disgusting.”
The letter, signed by Dave Petersen, who according to ESPN is a resident of Johnstown, Penn., was addressed to Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland. After the letter was posted on Twitter by Sutherland’s roommate and Penn State defensive tackle Antonio Shelton, many remarked that the letter was racist.
One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist. pic.twitter.com/Qms1F6DEEP— Antonio Shelton (@_groovy55) October 7, 2019
“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,” Petersen’s letter reads. “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’ve told you those shoulder-length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive[?]”
Franklin, in defending Sutherland, told reporters at a press conference that he “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’s list honor student, he’s confident, he’s articulate, he’s intelligent, he’s thoughtful, he’s careful and he’s committed,” Franklin said. “He’s got two of the most supportive parents, and I would be blessed if my daughters would marry someone with his character and integrity one day.”
Franklin went on to speak about his program and the sport can bring people together.
“The football that I know and love brings people together and embraces differences … 110,00 fans from all different backgrounds, areas throughout our region and parts of the state and they are hugging, high fiving and singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ together,” he said.
“This is the game that I love and most importantly these are my players that I love and will defend like sons.”
Penn State responded to Shelton’s tweet of the letter, condemning its contents.
“We strongly condemn this message or any message of intolerance,” the school posted. “The content of the letter does not align with our values.”
For his part, Petersen, in an interview with Johnstown newspaper The Tribune-Democrat said that he did not intend to set off a firestorm.
“I would just like to see the coaches get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State guys and Miami guys,” Petersen said.