Penn State football head coach James Franklin on Tuesday gave a strong defense of one of his players after a scathing letter criticized the hairstyle of the Nittany Lions’ defensive back.
Franklin addressed the letter, which was sent to safety Jonathan Sutherland and asked him to adapt to a “clean cut” hairstyle and lambasted his “disgusting tattoos.” Franklin, who’s in his sixth season as Penn State head coach, offered a passionate defense of Sutherland.
“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,” Franklin said. “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.”
Franklin then went on to describe Sutherland’s character and achievements on and off the field.
“He's the ultimate example of what our program is all about,” he said. “He's a captain, he's a Dean List honor student. He's articulate. He's confident. 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 my daughters would marry someone like him with his character and integrity one day.”
Sutherland also offered a statement on the letter.
“Although the message was indeed rude, ignorant, and judging, I've taken no personal offense to it because personally, I must respect (him) as a person before I respect your opinion,” Sutherland wrote in a statement posted onto his Twitter account. “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.”
Dave Peterson, who signed the letter, told the Tribune-Democrat that he didn’t intend his letter to be a cultural or racial statement.
Sutherland’s teammates Antonio Shelton and C.J. Holmes denounced the letter on Twitter on Tuesday.
Penn State is 5-0 this season and is set to take on Iowa on Saturday.