Sports

Man who wrote letter to PSU player says he doesn’t want team to look like ‘Miami guys.’

The Penn State fan who sparked a social media storm over a letter he wrote about a Nittany Lions player’s looks has explained his comments were not racial.

According to the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, the letter’s author is David Petersen, a 1966 Penn State graduate.

Petersen wrote the letter about Penn State player Jonathan Sutherland, describing his “shoulder-length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive,” according to Sutherland’s teammate Antonio Shelton’s post of the letter on Twitter.

In Shelton’s Twitter post, he said, “one of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist.”

Petersen, though, when explaining how it was not his intent to make a racial or cultural statement to the Tribune-Democrat, said, “I would just like to see the coaches get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State and Miami guys.”

“It wasn’t threatening or anything. I was just disgruntled about some of the hairdos that we’re seeing,” he added, according to the Tribune-Democrat. “You think of Penn State as a bunch of clean-cut guys. And you do see so many who are clean cut. But the tattoos and the hair — there are a lot of guys with hair coming down their backs and it just looks awful. And it’s the same for the NFL and NBA, too.”

Penn State’s official Twitter account and head football coach James Franklin responded to the letter.

“While we don’t know the source of this letter or the authenticity, obviously its content does not align with our values,” Penn State’s official Twitter account posted. “We strongly condemn this message or any message of intolerance.”

In Franklin’s Tuesday news conference with reporters, he opened with a statement regarding the situation.

“You know that the football that I know and love brings people together and embraces differences black, white, brown, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim,” Franklin said. “Rich or poor, rural or urban, Republican or Democrat. Longhair, 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. We live. We learn, we grow. We support and we defend each other. We’re a family. Penn State football, Penn State University, Happy Valley provide the same opportunities to embrace one another 12 Saturdays each fall. PSU football brings people together like very few things on this planet. One hundred and ten thousand fans from all different backgrounds throughout our region from all different parts of the state.

“And they’re hugging and high-fiving me and singing, ‘Sweet Caroline,’ together. This is my football. This is the game that I love and most importantly my players that I love and will defend like sons. Ultimately, this is the definition and embodiment of what we are is all about.

“Lastly, 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’s list honor student. He’s confident, he’s articulate, he’s intelligent, he’s thoughtful, he’s caring and he’s committed to the most supportive parents. And I would be so blessed if my daughters married someone similar with his character and traits.

“Now back to Iowa. Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa.”

Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.
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