A Johnstown, Pennsylvania, man is defending a letter he wrote to a Penn State football player that caused an online uproar Monday. The writer called out the player's "awful hair" and said "those shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting."
Thousands have retweeted a message posted on Twitter early Monday evening by PSU defensive lineman Antonio Shelton that included a photo of the letter to his teammate, Jonathan Sutherland. "One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist," Shelton wrote.
The letter was signed by Dave Petersen. A local newspaper in Johnstown contacted Petersen and confirmed that he penned the letter to Sutherland.
The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat wrote that David Petersen is a 1966 graduate of Penn State with a degree in speech pathology.
Petersen told the paper he didn't know his letter had caused a backlash both online and among administrators at his alma mater, which swiftly condemned the letter Monday night.
He said his intent was not to be racist or demeaning to Sutherland, but "I would just like to see the coaches get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State and Miami guys."
Those two universities and Penn State are all national football powerhouses.
A message left by NBC10 Philadelphia for Petersen at his home was not immediately returned Tuesday.
In his letter, Petersen disparaged Sutherland's hair, but also lauded the player's effort in a game last month against the University of Pittsburgh. He also wrote of his strong yearning for the past.
"We congratulate you on your game against Pitt but you need to remember you represent all Penn Staters both current and those alumni from years past," Petersen wrote. "We would welcome the reappearance of dress codes for athletes. You will certainly be playing on Sunday in the future but we have stopped watching the NFL due to the disgusting tattoos, awful hair and immature antics in the end zone. Players should act as though they've been there before.'"
He also wondered in the letter if Sutherland has "parents or (a) girlfriend who've told you those shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive."
Petersen signed off with a popular Penn State motto: "FOR THE GLORY"
Within three hours of Antonio Shelton's tweet of the letter Monday night, Penn State's official Twitter account issued a condemnation of Petersen's message: "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's head coach, James Franklin, said in a press conference Tuesday Sutherland is a wonderful person who should be an example of how to live.
"The football I know and love brings people together, and embraces differences," Franklin told reporters. "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."
"I would be so blessed if my daughters marry someone with his character and integrity one day," Franklin added.
Sutherland, later on Tuesday, tweeted that he takes "no personal offense" to the letter, "because personally, I respect you as a person before I respect your opinion."