The Extremely Online corner of the college football world has spent the past 24 hours collectively dragging a letter an ‘older’ Penn State fan tweeted by Nittany Lions defensive tackle Antonio Shelton. “One of my teammates got this,” Shelton said. “Explain to me how this isn’t racist.”
“Though the athletes of today are certainly superior to those in my days; we miss the clean cut men and women from those days,” the letter reads. “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 certainly not attractive.”
The letter went on to say the couple has stopped watching the NFL because of “disgusting tattoos, awful hair and immature antics in the end zone.”
Penn State’s online roster lists only one player named Jonathan, junior safety Jonathan Sutherland.
We don’t need to bring in the K-9 unit to hear the dog whistles at play here. Further reporting has shown the self-identified author, Dave Petersen, has a history of writing Central Pennsylvania newspapers offering unsolicited takes that are “get off my lawn” old man-ism at best and dog-whistle racism at worst.
Shelton’s tweets has received 13,400 retweets (rage-tweets?) and more than 45,000 likes as of this writing. The letter was swiftly denounced by Penn State’s official Twitter account:
“While we don’t know the source of this letter or the authenticity, obviously its content does not align with our values,” the school said. “We strongly condemn this message or any message of intolerance.”
While we don’t know the source of this letter or the authenticity, obviously its content does not align with our values. We strongly condemn this message or any message of intolerance.
— Penn State (@penn_state) October 8, 2019
Often times, Extremely Online controversies remain that way, but this one jumped into the real world on Tuesday when James Franklin addressed it at his weekly news conference.
“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,” Franklin said, rubbing his bald dome. “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.
“Penn State football, Penn State University and Happy Valley provide the same opportunity to embrace one another 12 Saturdays each fall. PSU football brings people together like few things on this planet. A hundred and ten thousand 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.”
James Franklin with an important and emotional message regarding a fan’s racist letter sent to PSU safety Jonathan Sutherland. pic.twitter.com/z2TFlWKs3m
— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) October 8, 2019
Franklin’s statement did a masterful job of taking a story of one Penn State fan singling one Nittany Lions player out, and in the process making the entire Penn State fandom look bad, and turning it into a chance to shine positive light on Sutherland, on Penn State, and on the entire game of football.