Update, 12:45 p.m.: Penn State coach James Franklin issued a statement at the beginning of his weekly press conference regarding the letter one of his players received criticizing the player’s looks and hairstyle.
Franklin’s statement, in full:
“You know the football that I know and love brings people together and 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 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, Happy Valley provide the same opportunity to embrace one another 12 Saturdays each fall. PSU football brings people together like very few things on this planet. One hundred ten thousand fans from all different background 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 I love, and more importantly, the players that I love and will defend like sons. Ultimately, this is the definition and embodiment of what we are 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. He’s confident, he’s articulate, he’s intelligent, he’s thoughtful, he’s caring, and he’s committed to the most supportive parents. And I would be so blessed if my daughters married someone similar with his character and traits.”
UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour issued a statement of support for the Nittany Lions players after one of them received a letter from an alum that criticized his appearance and hair length.
The letter was shared on Twitter Monday night by several Penn State players, including defensive tackle Antonio Shelton, who said it was addressed to safety Jonathan Sutherland.
“Explain to me how this isn’t racist,” Shelton tweeted.
The letter, written by a man claiming to be a “proud, ‘older’ graduate of Penn State,” criticized Sutherland for the length of his hair and said he wished the team had a dress code.
“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,” the letter states. “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.”
Shelton’s tweet went viral, generating thousands of responses — most of them positive and supportive.
Barbour sent out a message of her own on Tuesday.
“I stand with our Penn State student athletes and appreciate how they represent PSU in competition, in the classroom and in the community,” Barbour tweeted. “Their dress, tattoos, or hairstyle has no imact on my suport, nor does their gender, skin color, sexuality or religion! #WeAre #ONETEAM.”
Monday’s viral tweet is the second time this season that criticism of Penn State players from older alums has gone viral.
Earlier this year, the new “Lawn Boyz” chain worn by the team’s running backs on the sidelines during Penn State games, came under fire from older PSU alumni.
Those criticisms and the responses also prompted plenty of activity on social media.