Penn State coach James Franklin blasts letter critical of Jonathan Sutherland’s dreadlocks

A Penn State alumnus sent Sutherland a letter saying his “shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive.”

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Penn State’s Jonathan Sutherland celebrates after a tackle against Pittsburgh on Sept. 14, 2019./

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Penn State running back C.J. Holmes posted a letter from a fan addressed to teammate Jonathan Sutherland on Twitter on Monday that asked Sutherland to cut his dreadlocks and clean up his appearance

”Watching the Idaho game on TV we couldn’t help but notice your — well — awful hair,” reads the letter signed by 1966 Penn State alum Dave Petersen. ”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.” 

And on Tuesday, Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin delivered a passionate rebuke of the letter and defended Sutherland, a junior safety from Ottawa, Canada. 

“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.

“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.” 

The Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tribune-Democrat tracked down Petersen, who maintained he did not want to make a racial or cultural statement. 

”I would just like to see the coaches get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State and Miami guys,” he said. 

Sutherland has 15 tackles this season (seven solo) and blocked two punts against Idaho during the season opener. He released a Twitter statement Tuesday saying, “although the message was indeed rude, ignorant, and judging, I’ve taken no personal offense to it because personally, I must respect (him) as a person before I respect your opinion.” 


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