Penn State and its players continued Saturday to rally around safety Jonathan Sutherland, who was sent what many deemed a “racist” letter critical of his dreadlocks, by wearing supportive T-shirts.
The T-shirts, which many players donned during warm-ups ahead of the 7:30 p.m. kickoff on the road against Iowa, read, “Chains, Tattoos, Dreads, & WE ARE.” The shirts appeared to be made by the State College bar Champs because they had its logo, although the bar’s Instagram post about the T-shirt was taken down — and the shirt is not available for sale on the company website.
The shirts appeared to be confiscated by a team representative, possibly because of the business connection. According to ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe, James Franklin said the players acted “on their own” in wearing the shirts.
Penn State issued the following statement in response: “While we are supportive of our students expressing themselves in a thoughtful manner, they are expected to wear team-issued apparel on game day. We asked our students to remove the shirts out of an abundance of caution for NCAA compliance.”
The shirts were created in response to an ongoing controversy, which came to a head earlier this week when defensive tackle Antonio Shelton published a letter from a 78-year-old alum that was sent to Sutherland. In the letter, the alum — 1966 Penn State grad Dave Petersen — took exception with Sutherland’s dreadlocks, writing they were “disgusting,” “awful” and “not attractive.”
He also bemoaned tattoos in the NFL. “Explain to me how this isn’t racist,” Shelton wrote.
Petersen didn’t address the “chains.” But, last week, a vocal minority of fans also shared their displeasure over Penn State’s “Lawn Boyz” chain that the running backs wear after scoring touchdowns. “Joe Paterno is spinning in his grave,” one fan wrote on Twitter.
Franklin, the university, the athletic director, players — and much of the Penn State community — came together to verbally condemn the intolerance and to embrace the culture of this team, one that prides itself on doing good off the field and in the classroom and doesn’t focus on appearance.
Franklin offered a powerful statement Tuesday afternoon on the matter.
“Teams all over this country are the purest form of humanity that we have,” he said, in part. “We don’t judge; we embrace differences. We live, we learn, we grow, we support, and we defend each other. We’re a family.”
Safety Lamont Wade was among the players to wear the supportive T-shirt Saturday. He spoke to the media Wednesday, called the letter “blatant disrespect” and agreed that it could possibly become a galvanizing part of this team.
“It’s just something that shows we’re more than football players,” Wade said Wednesday. “We’re not just going to sit there and be quiet and take everybody’s crap.”