Former Penn State Football Star Slams Letter Asking Athlete To Cut His Dreadlocks

Penn State Football
Penn State head coach John Franklin leads his football team. Franklin and former star player Lavar Arrington spoke out regarding a recent letter sent to current Nittany Lions safety Jonathan Sutherland. Corey Perrine/Getty

Former NFL and Penn State football star Lavar Arrington weighed in on the recent letter written by an alum criticizing a Nittany Lion for wearing dreadlocks.

Arrington, who played at Penn State under disgraced former coach Joe Paterno from 1997-1999, said the sentiments in the letter reflect a specific segment of Penn State's fans who miss the Paterno era.

"The reality here is that is very much the culture that Joe Paterno built," Arrington said. "The culture of, when you come to this school ... I came to that school, I'm a kid from the city of Pittsburgh. I'm a Pittsburgh born-and-bred dude. That's city, that's urban. You come to this school and, now you're not allowed to wear earrings, you're not allowed to have facial hair."

Arrington made his remarks Tuesday on FS1's "Speak for Yourself."

The letter, written by Penn State alum Dave Petersen, criticized safety Jonathan Sutherland's appearance, focusing on his dreadlocks."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," Petersen wrote.

"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," he added. Petersen, who said he was a former Penn State season ticket holder, graduated from the school in 1966.

Sutherland's teammates Antonio Shelton and C.J. Holmes posted the letter on Twitter. "One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn't racist," said Shelton in his tweet with the letter.

Arrington said that the letter portrays a divide between older fans who still idolize Joe Paterno's coaching philosophies and younger fans who have embraced the current culture of Penn State set by head coach James Franklin.

Paterno was dismissed from the team in 2011 amid a major child sex abuse scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, and the school has been trying to distance itself from the former coach's reputation. One year after Sandusky was convicted of child sexual abuse, a university-commissioned investigation determined Paterno and other administrators covered for him. Paterno was not known for being racist, but his reputation may show the cultural differences between former and current coaches.

"What you're seeing here is a disconnect," Arrington said. "Those kids, young men, who saw the letter and were offended by the letter—which they should've been offended by the letter—they know nothing about Joe Paterno. Joe Paterno's been gone. They may know some of the things that happened in that past, but they're not connected to that past. The coach is not connected to that past."

Franklin defended his player during a press conference on Tuesday. "The football that I know and love brings people together and embraces differences," Franklin said. "Black, white, brown, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, rich or poor, rural or urban, Republican or Democrat, long hair, short hair or no hair. They're all in that locker room together."

Although he did not issue a formal apology, according to the Tribune-Democrat, Petersen said that making a racial or cultural statement "was not the intent at all."

In a post on his Twitter account, Sutherland managed to acknowledge the letter with kindness."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. "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."