STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WTAJ) — Penn State football players and fans are continuing to show their support for defensive back Jonathan Sutherland.
This support comes after he received a letter which criticized his dreadlocks, calling them “disgusting.”
In the aftermath of the letter’s publication, head coach James Franklin and many players voiced their support for Sutherland during press conferences leading up to last Saturday’s game at Iowa.
Then, some players took their support a step further during their pre-game warm up… wearing shirts they feel shared a message of inclusivity.
WTAJ spoke with PSU students, State College residents, and Central PA visitors to gather their reaction to this pre-game wardrobe decision. All of those the station heard from agreed with the shirt’s message and said the player’s actions spoke louder than any words.
The general consensus on the aforementioned letter addressed to Sutherland is clear.
“I think people that wrote that letter were way out of line,” said Mr. Strevig, who was visiting State College from Hanover, PA.
“I don’t think there’s any actual Penn State fan that would agree that that message was okay in any way,” said PSU student Asa Shin.
To show their displeasure with that perceived message, a handful of PSU players took to the turf in Kinnick Stadium wearing shirts that read:
“Chains, Tattoos, Dreads, & WE ARE.”
To many, this showcased a focus not on the appearance of a player, but instead on how they act both on and off the field.
Promptly after beginning warm ups, the shirts were removed by PSU officials who wanted to avoid any potential NCAA violation. To date, no NCAA fine has been levied as a result of the shirts.
ABC’s cameras did capture the shirts which were aired to a national audience during Saturday night’s broadcast.
Those WTAJ spoke with said that the brief time the shirts were worn (and shown) meant something.
“One of the big traditions of Penn State and Penn State Football culture is solidarity. WE ARE is not a matter of individuals, we’re just one big happy family…so an attack on one is an attack on all and they’re gonna stand by that person,” said PSU Student Alex Harlan.
Amidst agreement on the shirt’s message, there was some debate over the motive of the business selling the shirts: Champs Downtown (State College)
“I think people should be able to say whatever they want… but I think if Champs is selling the shirts, I don’t think it’s as appropriate. They should be able to say whatever they want, but no businesses should get involved,” said PSU Student Eric Orange.
Orange feels the message of the shirt is important, but is skeptical that the shirt was created to draw in business to Champs rather than promote a cause.
“I think that’s a little bit low-down to try and take advantage of a political or a scandalous situation…I don’t think that’s right,” he said.
Shin had a different take:
“They’re a business… I don’t really hold anything against them if they want to try and drum up support for their name or their brand. I think they’ve made a very smart business decision attaching themselves to one of, if not the biggest names in college football. So I wouldn’t say I’m against it in any way,” he said, adding that wearing a Champs shirt is no different than wearing a sponsored jersey.
“PSU uniforms have Nike on them, what’s the real difference there? It’s just one is a local venue that is dealing with a social issue, and the other is a multi-conglomerate company that has way more money than anyone could do anything with,” Shin said.
The manager of Champs Downtown, Dante Lucchesi, told WTAJ he hopes to give money raised through t-shirt sales towards the State College Area School District (SCASD). No official arrangement has currently been made with SCASD.
Lucchesi feels that giving towards education is the solution for the “ignorance” he says fueled the letter sent to Sutherland.