Penn State rallies around Jonathan Sutherland after letter criticizing his dreadlocks

The (Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)
Jonathan Sutherland

A letter about athlete’s appearance addressed to a Penn State football player has gotten a strong response from fellow players and the school.

Penn State defense tackle Antonio Shelton posted a letter he says was sent to a teammate to his Twitter account on Monday and asked, “One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist.”

The letter, addressed to Jonathan, begins by saying he and his wife are “older” graduates and follow all Penn State sports. But then laments, “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.”

The letter is presumed to be directed toward junior safety Jonathan Sutherland, who wears dreadlocks.

The letter goes on to get personal, “Watching the Idaho game on TV we couldn’t help but notice your — well — awful hair.” And stating that someone — like a parent or girlfriend — should let the player know that “those shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive.”

The player is chastised for not representing all Penn State alumni and adding that while the player will likely go on to the NFL, the fan wouldn’t be following his career, “we have stopped watching the NFL due to the disgusting tattoos, awful hair and immature antics in the end zone.”

Franklin supports Sutherland: “Long hair, short hair, no hair. They’re all in that locker room together,” coach James Franklin said during his news conference Tuesday. “These are the players I love and will defend like sons.

“I would be so blessed if my daughters would marry someone with (Sutherland’s) character someday.”

On a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, junior defensive end Shaka Toney said the team hopes to move past the “hatred.”

“Maybe he speaks for a few lettermen, but the lettermen I’ve talked to over these four years I’ve been here have been nothing but supportive of me,” Toney said.

“I want everybody who is a letterman to make sure you don’t stand for things like that.

“You don’t have to publicly go out there and talk about it, but don’t support things like that, hatred and things like that.”

The letter also was posted by Penn State’s CJ Holmes, who shared, “I also have locs, Tats, and NFL dreams too, these messages cannot be tolerated, this was extremely inappropriate, racially biased, and selfish to feel like you even have a right to send this message.”

Letter quickly slammed: The letter was quickly slammed on social media.

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

In light of the letter, athletic director Sandy Barbour also tweeted her support of Penn State athletes.

“I stand with our Penn State student-athletes and appreciate how they represent PSU in competition, in the classroom and in the community,” Barbour tweeted. “Their dress, tattoos, or hairstyle has no impact on my support, nor does their gender, skin color, sexuality or religion!”

Toney called Sutherland “a pro’s pro … somebody who always does everything right.”

“He does well in school and is already a captain and he’s only a sophomore,” Toney said.

“I’m pretty sure whoever wrote that letter you’d want your kid to be like Jonathan Sutherland.”

Concentrating on football: With a tough road game at Iowa next on the schedule, Toney said it’s time to concentrate on football.

“We are going to ignore that and block out the hate. You can’t put energy into negative things,” he said. “We’ve got to worry about Iowa, not some lunatic who probably is hiding behind his computer and didn’t even put his real name on it.”

According to a report in, the letter-writer has a history of writing similar letters to newspapers in Pennsylvania.