Penn State fan calls African American player’s dreadlocks ‘disgusting’ in viral letter


A Penn State alumnus and football fan chided a Nittany Lions player for wearing his hair in “disgusting” dreadlocks, sparking an outpouring of support for the student-athlete from his teammates and school.

The letter that was addressed “Dear Jonathan”, presumably to Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland, was posted on social media by teammate Antonio Shelton on Monday night. Sutherland is a defensive standout who wears his hair in dreadlocks.

“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,” said the letter, signed by Dave Petersen.

“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 have told you those shoulder-length dreadlocks disgusting and are certainly not attractive?”

NBC News was not able to immediately reach Petersen for comment.

Shelton’s post of the letter asked, “Explain to me how this isn’t racist.”

Another teammate, defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins, called Sutherland a “blueprint” of the “highest standard in the classroom, community, and with his teammates on the field or off.”

“This letter is intolerable, your discomfort is disgusting, and you don’t deserve to be ‘represented’ by a man with character as spectacular as #26,” Hawkins wrote on Twitter, of his teammate Sutherland.

The school also rallied around Sutherland, a sophomore from Ottawa, Ontario.

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

The Nittany Lions have won their first five games of this young season and are ranked No. 10 nationally in the latest Associated Press poll. Penn State next plays Iowa, which ranks 17, on Saturday.

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