James Franklin gives powerful statement after Penn State player receives racist letter

A day after a pair of Penn State football players posted a nasty letter sent from a PSU alum to safety Jonathan Sutherland, Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin opened his Tuesday press conference with a strong statement.

In the letter, Dave Petersen, a 1966 PSU graduate from Johnstown, Pa., said Sutherland’s dreadlocks “look disgusting.” Antonio Shelton, one of Sutherland’s teammates, posted an image of the letter on Monday with the caption, “explain to me how this isn’t racist.”

On Tuesday, Franklin told reporters that they “embrace differences” in his program and praised Sutherland as one of his team’s “most respected players.”

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“Jonathan Sutherland is one of the most respected players in our program,” Franklin said. “He’s the ultimate example of what our program is all about. He’s a captain. He’s a Dean’s List honors student. He’s confident, he’s articulate, he’s intelligent, he’s thoughtful, he’s caring, and he’s committed.”

Below is Franklin’s statement in its entirety:

The football that I know and love brings people together. It 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.

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 and 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. 110,000 fans from all different backgrounds throughout our region from all different parts of the state and they’re hugging and high-fiving 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 honors student. He’s confident, he’s articulate, 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 with his character and integrity one day.

Sutherland responds

Not long after Franklin’s press conference, Sutherland made his first public statement about the letter he received. In a note posted on his Twitter account, Sutherland said the message he received was “rude, ignorant and judging.” However, he said he did not take “personal offense” to the letter because “I must respect you as a person before I respect your opinion.”

Below is Sutherland’s full response:

Yesterday I received a letter by an alumni from the Pennsylvania State University who felt the need to share his degrading opinions in regards to my hair and what it stands for. Although the message was indeed rude, ignorant and judging, I’ve taken no personal offense to it because personally, I must respect you as a person before I respect your opinion.

At the end of the day, without an apology needed, I forgive this individual because I’m nowhere close to being perfect and I expect God to forgive me for all of the wrong I’ve done in my life. Colossians 3:13 states, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

I appreciate everyone who has reached out to me and showed their support. Let this be one of the many examples to us that in the year 2019, people of different cultures, religions and ethnicities are still being discriminated against and it needs to stop. Don’t be scared to be different!!

Penn State ‘strong condemns’ intolerance

After the letter made the rounds on social media, Penn State said from its official Twitter account that the school “strongly condemns this message or any message of intolerance.” On Tuesday morning, PSU athletic director Sandy Barbour voiced a similar sentiment.

Petersen confirmed to The Tribune-Democrat — a newspaper he has frequently written letters to — that he was the one who sent the letter. He was surprised by the reaction.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Petersen said making a racial or cultural statement "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."

Of his letter to the Penn State player, Petersen said: "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."

No. 10 Penn State, now 5-0 on the year, will face No. 17 Iowa on the road on Saturday night.

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