It doesn’t take four legs, a tail and a wet nose to hear certain types of dog whistles, as ears were ringing across the country Monday when Penn State defensive tackle Antonio Shelton posted a letter from a Penn State fan addressed to safety Jonathan Sutherland that was chock full of dog-whistle racism.
“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 tweet quickly spread online, it has nearly 15,000 retweets as of his writing, and was denounced by Penn State’s official university 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 tweet said. “We strongly condemn this message or any message of intolerance.”
On Tuesday, the usually laser-focused James Franklin used part of his weekly news conference to address the tweet.
“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. “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.”
Sutherland himself also addressed the letter.
“Although the message was indeed rude, ignorant and judging, I’ve taken no offense to it because personally, I must respect you as a person before I respect your opinion,” Sutherland said. “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 the wrong I’ve done in my life.”
For what it’s worth, further reporting identified the author as Dave Petersen, a veteran of the Letters to the Editor section of various Central Pennsylvania newspapers who has never been shy of sharing his unfettered takes ranging from “get off my lawn” old man-isms to casual racism. Contacted by the Johnstown, Pa., Tribune-Democrat, Petersen said he did not intend to make a racist statement while adding, “I would just like to see the coaches get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State and Miami guys.”