Black Penn State Player Who Was Attacked In Alumni Letter & Told to Cut ‘Awful’ Dreadlocks Meets Young Fan Who Sent Encouraging Letter

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison

Jonathan Sutherland also received support from his team, coaches, fans and others

By Autumn Keiko

Penn State’s football team has shown if you come for one of them, you’re going to get all of them – and many of their fans share that sentiment. Several members of the team came out for their pregame warm up in Iowa wearing t-shirts that read “Chains, tattoos, dreads, & WE ARE.” A young fan named Mason Young, 8, also wrote an encouraging letter.

The shirts and Young’s letter came in reaction to a disparaging letter sent to Kent State player Jonathan Sutherland from a white alum. In it, Sutherland’s locs were referred to as “awful hair” and he was told he needs to cut them. The letter was tweeted by Sutherland’s teammates Antonio Shelton and CJ Holmes on Oct. 7.

A man who identifies himself as Dave Petersen wrote he and his wife are “proud ‘older’ graduates” of Penn State.” After congratulating Sutherland on their game against Pittsburgh, he wrote:

“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 girlfriend who’ve told you those shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive. (sic)”

He went on to add Sutherland should remember he represented “all Penn Staters both current and those alumni from years past. We would welcome the reappearance of dress codes for athletes.”

Petersen ended the letter by stating he and his wife stopped watching the NFL because they were tired of the “disgusting tattoos, awful hair and immature antics in the end zone. Players should act as though they’ve ‘been there before’. (sic)”

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In his tweet of the letter, Moore wrote, “One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist.” In Holmes’ tweet he wrote, “my teammate got this in the mail today, and tbh Im (sic) at a lost for words.. I also have locs, Tats, and NFL dreams too, these messages can not be tolerated, this was extremely inappropriate, racially biased, and selfish to feel like you even have a right to send this message #WeAre”

In Young’s letter, he told Sutherland not to listen to the “mean people” who sent the letter, reported the Daily Collegian. “You are my favorite player and the BEST! That haie is amazing! Wowee,” Young wrote, adding he wished he had hair like Sutherland because he thought it was “magical.” Sutherland met Young Saturday.

In addition to Sutherland’s teammates and Young, many other people came to the safety’s defense. Penn State released a statement saying the letter was not in line with their values. His coach James Franklin rebuked the letter and even wore a dreadlocks wig to support Sutherland. Despite the backlash, Petersen told his local paper, The Tribune-Democrat, he stands by his comments, reported Heavy.

According to the Tribune-Democrat, Peterson, 78, is a 1966 graduate of Penn State who admitted to making the comment. He said making a racist comment “was not the intent at all. I would just like to see the coaches get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State and Miami guys.”

He added: “It wasn’t threatening or anything. I was just disgruntled about some of the hairdos that we’re seeing. 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.”

Though Sutherland’s teammates, fans and many others were highly upset about the offensive, disparaging letter, Sutherland tweeted he’s “taken no personal offense to it” and would “forgive” Sutherland because he’s “nowhere close to being perfect” and “expects God to forgive” him for all his life’s wrongs.