In the wake of a fan’s letter criticizing a football player’s dreadlocks, Penn State head coach James Franklin opened his weekly press conference Tuesday with a powerful statement on football and tolerance.
Dave Petersen, an opinionated 78-year-old fan from Johnstown, wrote to safety Johnathan Sutherland and called his dreadlocks “awful,” “disgusting” and “not attractive.” Many people — including numerous teammates — condemned the letter as “racist.”
Franklin offered his thoughts Tuesday. His full statement is transcribed below:
“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 each other on 12 Saturdays each fall. Penn State 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 this 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 honor student, and 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 one of my daughters married someone with his character and integrity one day.
“Now, back to Iowa. Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa and Iowa. Seems somewhat ridiculous, but I’m going to talk about the Purdue game right now. Because that’s our normal routine.”